I Love By-laws!

But not the way you think!

By-laws are simply functional rules by which citizens of a municipality govern themselves and behave as a community. They are wide-ranging and in most cases cover everyday governance matters, such as street names, sidewalk widths, plans of subdivision and appointment of by-law officers.

What I love about by-laws is how they reflect the community and the time period in which they were enacted. By-laws tell the story of Guelph.

I happened to borrow an old book of by-laws from City Hall over the holidays, and will share a few humourous tidbits over the next few days.

As background, the Ontario Municipal Act came into effect in 1849. In 1850, the Town of Guelph became officially recognized in Schedule D of the Act as a corporate municipal entity. Once recognized, Guelph now had the right to enact by-laws.

Enacting a by-law speaks volumes about Guelph at the time. Since by-laws are for the governance of the town, what kind of by-laws were needed to regulate a community with a population of less than 3,000 people? This is where the interesting part starts…..

First things first, By-law No. 1, enacted of January 31, 1851, was “for carrying into effect the Assessment Act.” In other words, giving ourselves the right to levy taxes. It makes perfect sense that this was the first order of business.  Afterall, that is what a municipal government does.  It is our primary purpose — tax and spend — to provide services and programs for the benefit of the community. Today, we may agree or disagree on how to spend tax money, but when it comes right down to the basics, levying taxes and using them for the operation of the town was as relevant in 1851 as it is today.

Which brings us to By-law No. 2. Enacted February 10, 1851, By-law No. 2 was for “regulating the keeping of dogs.” That’s rather curious from a modern perspective. With sweeping power to enact new laws, Guelph’s second act of governance was to regulate dogs. It turns out that feral and unleashed dogs were a huge problem in 1851, because they killed and injured livestock and ran loose in the streets. By-law No. 8, forbidding animals from running at large” was passed in March 25, 1851.

Now that the dog problem was dealt with, what next? By-law No. 3 should come as no surprise — “for the granting of tavern licences.” In fact, several by-laws followed relating to the appointment of tavern inspectors, amendments to the original tavern by-law and licencing storekeepers selling liquor. The consumption, and therefore the regulation, of alcohol, was an issue that fell to the local authorities in most early Upper Canadian towns. Community safety, security of persons and property and public order continues today as an issue of prime importance in policing.

The next few by-laws are more routine, such as rules of governance, appointment of officers, fines, etc.

Stay tuned — I will post more in the next few days! Some of the funnier by-laws passed by Town/City Council over the years still to come….


Beyond the Ballot Box

I had the pleasure of discussing municipal issues with Jan Hall and Adam Donaldson on CFRU 93.3 Beyond the Ballot Box this week.

Click here to listen to the interview. 
The interview starts at the 8:20 minute mark. If you have feedback on any of the topics discussed, I am always open to hear your thoughts on local issues.


Carden Street Response

Like most residents of Guelph, including downtown merchants, I am very much looking forward to the opening of Market Square and the new transit hub.    The long term vision for this new civic space will benefit the community for generations to come.

Let’s face it, no one likes construction (except perhaps construction workers!).   Add hot weather and unforeseen delays, and it’s easy for emotions to boil over.    I have been following the commentary that has flowed from a recent email by a downtown merchant naming a city staff member, and the subsequent response that erupted from my response asking him to apologize.

The exchange of email is often an ineffective means of communication — to express humour, response, and for ongoing dialogue.   Recognizing this, I spoke to Mr. Black last week in person.  The two of us came away agreeing on a number of key points, including the need for ongoing communication and a speedy conclusion to the construction and a grand re-opening of the street.     He’s a nice guy and we had a pleasant conversation.

As far as I am concerned, the matter was concluded. 


Chamber of Commerce – Candidate Questionnaire – Leanne Piper

Chamber of Commerce Candidate Questionnaire

  1. Question:

Ignoring the current traffic problems caused by the construction, do you feel Guelph is on the right track with its current transportation plan (The Hanlon, Grid System, Public Transit and the new transportation Hub)?

Answer:   Yes.  There are improvements to be made in design and implementation, but the overall direction has solid reasoning behind it.  Multi-modal transportation is essential – bus, train, automobile, bicycle, etc. – in an age of business expediency, commuting, peak oil, and attracting new jobs to the city.

  1. Question:

The current property tax assessment is 84% residential and 16% industrial/commercial, what ratio would you like to see? What strategies should the city employ to reach the ideal ration of property tax assessment?

Answer:   75:25 is realistic and achievable.  Residents would like to see it lower, but we must shift to a ratio that reflects the services provided.   The only way to change the ratio is to attract more ICI businesses to Guelph, not to stop residential growth.  The first step is to ensure we have serviced land available.  We are doing that now, with the Hanlon Creek Business Park, the future Guelph Innovation District and our Brownfield Incentive Plan.   The second step is to provide dependable energy systems, infrastructure and a high quality of life to new and existing business so they are attracted to build or expand in our city.  The Community Energy Initiative is a key part of this strategy, as is our Water Supply Master Plan and Transit Growth Strategy.  We are well on our way – and I am optimistic that another four years will yield the fruit we have planted over the past term.

  1. Question:

What is your tourism vision for the city?

Answer:   Arts, culture, heritage, agri-tourism, food, music.  We have so much to offer, but need to place ourselves apart from other communities.  Let’s capitalize on what we already do best – music festivals, food, heritage.   We have the events in place, let’s expand.  For example, Doors Open brings up to 4,000 visitors every year – but it’s only one day long, so we should create a 3 day event program around it.

Agri-tourism is a booming sector.  We have the university, businesses and facilities to host major events – horse shows, dairy festival, etc.    It would be quite something to bring people into town by making better use of the Guelph Junction Express, as a mode of transportation from in and out of town, but also as a featured experience.   Also, Guelph has a thriving brewing and micro-brewery sector.   Similar to Niagara’s wine tourism, there is value in Guelph poising itself as the centre of brewing and malting in Ontario – revitalizing the “Ale Trail” program.  Create a museum of Canadian Brewing and Malting.  Partnerships with existing private tourism assets (such as Guelph Junction, Sleemans, Wellington Brewery, F&M, etc. ) will make this possible.

  1. Question:

How will you advance your own political agenda in a timely fashion while, at the same time, working with a variety of interest groups?

Answer:  In the first six months of any new Council, it is imperative to create, or reaffirm, a Strategic Plan and most important, to identify the actions and resources required to make it happen.  Then stick to the plan, making adjustments as new information or conditions arise.   The Strategic Plan is only valid if created in collaboration with business, residents and all stakeholders at the table.

  1. Question:

Do you support the directions of the “Prosperity 2020” report? Please explain.

Answer:  Yes.  We are implementing it now and seeing results.  Lessons learned from the past can only help us to improve in the future.  We need to get on with it quickly, as seeds sowed today often take years to yield visible benefits.

ECHO Weekly – Candidate Questionnaire – Leanne Piper

ECHO Weekly Candidate Questionnaire

1) Why did you want to run again for city council?

Guelph is on a forward momentum path.  We are poised to be national leaders on a number of fronts – water conservation, wastewater, community energy, economic development, arts and culture, and more.   We need strong leaders at City Hall to keep us on that path.  I want to look back in 25 years and know that I did everything in my power to ensure Guelph’s sustainability and prepare us for the next generation.  A number of key projects are well-underway that I would like to see completed, such as downtown renewal, urban forest management plan, and urban design policies.

2) What initiatives/achievements are you proud of during the last term?

The Community Energy Initiative, Water Supply Master Plan, Water Conservation Plan and Culture and Recreation Master Plan are just a few.  We also cemented GO trains coming to Guelph, brought new green jobs (Canadian Solar) to town, and weathered a very challenging recession.   In addition, we brought in significant infrastructure money and are working to complete five years worth of badly-needed upgrades in one year.   The Market Square and Guelph Civic Museum project are key investments in quality of life for residents and I can’t wait until they are both open next year.

3) Please describe your position/ideas on the following issues?

a) Taxes

Taxes are inevitable.  They pay for the basis services that keep our city humming (roads, snow ploughs, parks, police, fire, ambulance, waste management, etc.).  But taxes also pay for amenities that impact our quality of life – arts, recreation, heritage, etc.  The challenge is to invest wisely and find efficiencies that benefit the community the most.

b) Budget

Lower debt, stronger reserves, transparent accounting, and timely reporting.  The current council has made major change to the way we administer the budget, debt and reserves with new policies in place to ensure our AA credit rating is on solid ground.

c) Transit

On time, on budget, increased ridership, friendly staff, improved technology and better inter-modal linkage.  The Transit Growth Strategy speaks to all of these key issues and I strongly support the growth and efficiency of our system.   The new transit hub on Carden Street will make linkages easier and more pleasant for riders.  My family of young adults (high school and university) and myself are transit users, and know the importance of a dependable system (including holidays).

d) Development/Infrastructure

Guelph’s growth cannot be the same old form.  Densification makes better use of existing infrastructure and creates a vibrant core.  But it cannot be out of scale or character, and requires careful planning, strong urban design policy and creative and innovative partnerships with architects and developers who are willing to make Guelph different than other cities.  As we grow, we must protect green spaces, revitalize our river corridors, preserve heritage, create a new public realm (such as Market Square) and protect agricultural lands.

e) Arts & Culture

Guelph is a hub of creative talent – arts, culture, music, heritage, etc.  We have recently created a partnership with Artscape to explore and expand opportunities for artists of all genres to collaborate, create, perform and exhibit.   We need a new visual and performing arts space for this to happen.   Our cultural assets, including libraries and museums,  help to attract new business and economic activity.

5) What’s your message for voters?

Get out and vote.  Be informed about the candidates and cast your vote according to your vision for Guelph.

Guelph Wellington Seniors Association – Candidate Questionnaire – Leanne Piper

Guelph Wellington Seniors Association

1. What issues do seniors in your Ward have?

Seniors in Ward 5 face the same issues that many wards have. Seniors contribute substantially to our community – as volunteers, neighbours, mentors, and as customers of our many facilities, such as recreation centres, libraries, museums, parks, trails, etc., as well as our economic prosperity.

Our facilities, roadways, parks, trails, sidewalks and city buildings must be accessible to all.

Dependable, friendly, economical and flexible public transit means that seniors have the ability to travel around the city safely and efficiently. Whether it be by conventional bus or mobility transit, seniors are more likely to remain active and healthy when access to transportation is not a barrier.

Quality of Life
The demographic shift to a greater proportion of “boomers” has resulted in the need for increased active lifestyle opportunities for seniors – recreational facilities, programming, cultural venues and outdoor spaces. We need more opportunities for seniors in Ward 5 -– programs, services and supports – an “Evergreen” South would be ideal.

Aging in Place
Healthy neighbourhoods include seniors who are able to stay in their homes as long as possible. We need to insure that, as we grow and increase density of housing, that we maintain mixed use neighbourhoods where seniors can stay in their current home, downsize, or use their home as rental income, so that they can continue to enjoy their established neighbourhood.

At the same time, we need to plan for additional seniors housing, affordable housing, and lifestyle retirement living.

Ward 5 is very fortunate to be home to the “Village by the Arboretum” where a large population of seniors can enjoy a community focused on their needs. Small pockets of this type of housing form in other areas of Ward 5 can extend the benefit of senior-focused development.

Taxes are an ever-increasing burden for seniors, especially those without employment pensions. It is incumbent on city council to ensure that taxes are spent wisely and benefit the greatest number of citizens. We also must promote and maintain tax payment alternatives (such as payment deferment option currently available) for seniors who are financially burdened. Council must also encourage the development of more affordable housing options for seniors (such as the St. Joseph’s development).

2. Do you subscribe to the “Essential Features” of an “Age Friendly City” as set out by the WHO?

Yes, wholeheartedly. An “Age Friendly City” is of benefit to all citizens. After all, not one of us is getting any younger! Investments made today to make our city more age-friendly will serve to benefit future generations.

Leanne Piper
Ward 5 Candidate

Phone: 519-824-9000
Email: campaign@leannepiper.ca
Website: leannepiper.ca
Facebook: Re-Elect Leanne Piper Ward 5 Guelph

Property Rights – Yours, Mine and Ours

Several years ago, when I was a Community Editorial Board columnist with the Guelph Mercury, I published a column examining the issue of property rights. The column was in the context of property owners having the right to demolish heritage buildings.   How do we define the line that is crossed when individual rights and the public good are in conflict?

The discussion is relevant again in the context of a proposed tree by-law in the City of Guelph, so I will repost some of the original column here.


“It’s no accident that private property rights are not part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Such rights were specifically rejected by the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution because the exercise of those rights could interfere with, or be found in opposition to, the public interest.

Section 7 of the Charter, gives us the “right to life, liberty and security of the person”. The Charter protects freedom of religion, free speech, freedom of movement, and many other freedoms that relate to Canadian values. We have the right to own property and the right to enjoyment of that property.  But when it comes to  rights related to property ownership – there is no “right to profit” or “right to do anything I want”.

Let’s be fair, as a property owner, I do want some rights. But so does my neighbour.  He has a right to enjoyment of his property – he can build a fence, create a garden, sit on his deck, build a pool and a whole lot of other things that I may or may not like. The limitations of those rights are set out very clearly in established zoning and property standards by-laws. I have those same rights, as does every property owner in the city.

If my neighbours property rights infringe on my property rights, we have a problem. If my neighbours pursuit of enjoyment of his property is a risk to public safety or health , we also have a problem. That’s where community standards and public interest come in. Public interest must always trump private benefit.

How do we judge what is in the public interest? Thankfully, we have very clear documents and by-laws about what our community values are to help us assess what is in the public interest. We have our Strategic Plan and another nifty little document called the Official Plan. It is very much like the City of Guelph Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It’s filled with really strong statements about what our community values. According to the Official Plan, we value environmental stewardship, heritage protection, high-quality architecture, cultural and social diversity and strong neighbourhood character.

Protection of private property rights is not mentioned as a community objective in the Official Plan.  Nor should it be.  It’s not in the Strategic Plan either.

Since when is it the role of a municipal councillor to advocate for private property rights? It should be the complete opposite. The purpose of municipal government is to make decisions based on community values and public interest. The Council Code of Ethics specifically states that members of Council must “recognize that the chief function of municipal government at all times is to serve the best interests of all the people.”

Protection of property rights – for individuals or corporations – should therefore not be part of the debating vocabulary of any city councillor.


The intent of the tree by-law is to preserve the urban canopy for the greater public interest — air quality, soil erosion, energy conservation, decreased urban “heat island” effect, wildlife habitat, quality of life, aesthetics, etc.  If we collectively agree there is good reason to have a healthy urban forest, then we collectively bear responsibility to preserve it.