Should #Guelph Approve a $67 Million Library on Monday?


One of my favourite movies is the Christmas cult classic National Lampoons Christmas Vacation starring Chevy Chase who plays Clark Griswald, the fun family man who tries to make everyone happy throughout the Christmas Season.

This movie immediately came to mind when I received the latest report on revised plans and costs of building a new downtown library, to the tune of $67,000,000. To accomplish this, a city-wide increase to the tax levy is required, and once open it could result in further increased property taxes just to operate it.

So what does Clark Griswald have to do with Guelph’s potential $67 million dollar downtown library project?

Clark decides that he wants to surprise his family by installing an in-ground pool as soon as possible. It’s expensive but Clark isn’t worried. He’s 100% certain that his boss is going to send him his annual Christmas bonus which will cover the costs.

But (spoiler alert), the sure-thing Christmas bonus doesn’t arrive and mayhem ensues. Clark is a mess and doesn’t know how he’s going to afford the pool because he’s already committed to installing it by writing a personal cheque without enough funds in his bank account to cover it.

Thank goodness his wacky cousin Eddie sneaks off, kidnaps Clark’s boss and forces him to give the bonus after all! It truly was a Christmas miracle.

The report asking for $67 million on Monday is similar to Clark Griswald trying to install his pool without all the funds or information to do it.

It’s true, the upper levels of government have recently opened up applications for infrastructure funding that will allow Guelph to apply for our own Christmas Bonus which (fingers crossed) will perhaps cover some costs.

Yet we have a Federal election on October 21st, and we don’t know what the results will be, or what direction a potential party might take on these grants. They might keep them, they might scrap them. Who knows? On top of that, the Provincial Government still hasn’t nailed down the replacement of the removed development charges and informed municipalities of how this new funding would work for projects like the downtown library. Furthermore, we’re discussing this without the entire context of our completed 2020 capital budget and the 10 year capital forecast for all projects across our city.

We don’t have a Cousin Eddie that can run out before Council’s Monday night meeting and kidnap whoever they can to force them to write us a cheque that night.

Let me be clear, I fully acknowledge the current downtown branch is inadequate. A new library should be built, and on Baker Street.

But I’ll be direct and to the point here: We shouldn’t be making a $67 million dollar budget decision on a library this coming Monday.

Inevitably there will be those that want us to make that decision. Their resolve to building a new downtown library is their passion, and I respect that. They always delegate to the matter and continuously write letters to the media trying to push their case. That’s their right and I welcome those that are being respectful throughout this dialogue. Yet I believe some in the “build it now at all costs” camp don’t empathize with the thousands of people that are living paycheque to paycheque just trying to keep their head above water to support themselves and their family in this city.

I look forward to the discussion with my council colleagues, staff and the public. But in my opinion, Council should refer this decision to a future date where we have further clarity and a better level of comfort on the unknowns we currently have today.

Before the kidnapping of his boss, Clark technically does receive his Christmas bonus. He slowly opens the envelope in front of his entire family, hoping for the big cheque, but instead he receive’s a one year membership to the Jelly of the Month Club.

I am honoured to have your trust to oversee the finances and direction of this city while stewarding the taxpayers hard earned money. I didn’t run for Mayor to settle on a Jelly of the Month Club membership. I’m here to do things with excellence, armed with the right information and to implement projects at the right time while minimizing risk to your money.

This coming Monday is not the right time to make a decision for a $67 million Library, and I feel confident that the silent majority in this city agrees with me.

Thank you,

Cam Guthrie

Mayor- City of Guelph


When I mentioned above that we should have this discussion at a future date, I should have been more clear about defining what “future” meant. All I’m asking for is about a 7-8 week pause. By that time (roughly first week of November) many touch points that will bring more comfort to this decision will have passed. Some have read my post above and immediately jumped to a conclusion that I am wishing for this to be delayed another year or more. This is not the case. Especially when the deadline for the application for upper level government funding needs to be submitted before Nov 12th.

41 responses to “Should #Guelph Approve a $67 Million Library on Monday?”

  1. Susan Watson Avatar
    Susan Watson


    Have you read the staff materials in the consolidated agenda?

    This is not a final decision on cost. It is misrepresenting the facts to say it is. It’s asking for a green light to move to a more detailed design phase. The Business Terms of Agreement with the developer are not even going to be signed until 2020. Council will have ample time yet to weigh the big picture and make a final decision on costs down the road, based on what happens with all the moving parts.

    Staff and the developer need a green light to use the next 8 weeks to get the grant application ready for November 12th. Anyone who has even written a grant application knows that you don’t just pull these things out of a hat. Not giving the green light tonight will essentially mean ripping up a $36 million lottery ticket.

  2. Judy M. Avatar
    Judy M.

    There will always be elections and unknowns. But, if decisions need to be made to be able to access applications for grant monies, then this should be taken into consideration, especially if it has significant impact to off-set the cost.

    My concern, though, is that rarely does a large scale project get completed according to the original budget. My fear is a $67 million library morphs into much larger costs. I’m not against a small tax levy to get it built, but it’s the overall impact of a levy here, a levy there, more downloading from the province, etc.

  3. Chris Fischer Avatar
    Chris Fischer

    Cam, you don’t really want a library… You and your Conservative colleagues have made your anti-tax preferences loud and clear.

  4. Rob Reynolds Avatar
    Rob Reynolds

    Dear Cam Guthrie ,

    We agree 100% with your premise on timing and financial cost and subsequent burden on tax payers. With digital and technical advances occurring at the speed of light ,public libraries of today could have a complete different appearance and functionality in the future. Based on this premise , maybe a Volkswagon and not a Rolls Royce with suffice. I am sure our city could put millions of capital dollars to better use . Anyway, back to my digital reading and enjoyment for now ! Thanking your for the email.

    Best regards , Rob and Laurie Reynolds

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10


  5. Nichola Avatar

    Cam, I’m sorry I don’t agree with you. A clear indication of your approach to municipal policy is that you call us taxpayers. I am a citizen.

    How many people buy a house knowing that they have cash to pay for it all ahead of time? Often people buy when money is cheap. Look at the interest rates. You don’t know what the costs will be down the road nor do you know what the interest rates will be in a few years time.

    I know the provincial cuts to municipalities has been a shock to you ( and I suspect you may even have supported the new provincial government) but now is not the time to backtrack.

    A member of the silent majority

  6. Carrie Parsons Avatar
    Carrie Parsons

    I’m with you. $67 million is a big price tag. I for one am barely keeping up with property taxes now, let alone taking on a larger increase to support non-necessity items right now. With everything else on the rise in price, unknown election future, I think our libraries are “ok” for the next while. I would love a new updated library, but it’s not a necessity right now at this moment.
    I fully agree with you, and support your decision

  7. Scott Fraser Avatar
    Scott Fraser

    I completely agree with Mayor Guthrie. Glad we have someone with a level head in the mayor’s office.

  8. Andrew Taylor Avatar
    Andrew Taylor

    In the movie, it is clear that building the pool is a poorly thought out goal, driven more by Clark’s ego than by a sincere desire to do what is best for his family. He has no contingency plan when the bonus doesn’t come through. You say in your post that you believe new library should be built. Why do you think it should be built? It is important to be cautious, but deferring the decision comes with its own set of risks.

  9. Sharon Avatar

    I don’t say much about local politics. So I’ll count myself in the silent majority you reference… but it is LONG past time to build Guelph a new Library. Quit stalling and get on with it.

  10. Lorne D. Bruce Avatar
    Lorne D. Bruce

    Fortunately the Griswold’s Christmas ended happily and their holiday was not postponed because the boss realized the mistake. Today, we may not know whether provincial development charges can be recovered completely or exactly how much federal funding will be available before the coming fall deadline. But let’s vote YES, apply for federal funding, and keep the Baker Street project on track. Its not just the $67.1 million for the library that is up for discussion — there is another $38.6 million involved as well. Its all tied together for Guelph’s long term benefit and staff can update council about changes as things proceed through 2020 as the report indicates.

    The argument that libraries are useless, a waste of money, or a drain on municipalities doesn’t hold. If that were the case they would have been done away with by cities decades ago and they wouldn’t be popping up like they have across North American for the past 25 years in the Internet age.

    The economic benefits of libraries (even the old small main one that Guelph has) are well know to economists and planners. The latest major study of Toronto’s library system in 2012 by the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto School of Management concluded that: “For every dollar invested in Toronto Public Library (TPL), Torontonians receive $5.63. This benefit results from the market value of services delivered, or direct tangible benefits and the stimulus to Toronto’s economy from direct spending and re-spending (indirect tangible benefits).”

    As of September we have better maximum estimates and a funding rationale to go forward for an infrastructure application. Approve the staff report recommendations conditional on final budgeting for Guelph and its partners that will be firmed up in 2020.

  11. Susan Watson Avatar
    Susan Watson

    People might like to read what the Mayor has had to say about the library in the past:

    1. Anonymous Avatar

      Probably because we don’t have as much provincial funding maybe he should read the news years ago we had the funding we just sandbagged now we have cuts , and besides Alan Pickersgill is a sh*t disturber and a $**#&! due to how he complained about certain candidates.

      He has as much credibility as Gerry Barker.

  12. Lin Grist Avatar
    Lin Grist

    Sadly my initial comment seems to have disappeared. I respectfully disagree with the mayor. If the city can find $22 million for a parking lot (which after all houses cars for some people some of the time), then I would like to see them fund a library that is for everybody for the next 50 years. Hopefully this one will not be deleted.

  13. Jen Avatar

    No! Definitely do not waste the money on something that is a want not a need. We have many librairies, including the UoG. Basic necessities like affordable housing, food, safety and access to medical supports (and parking for such) are by far more important.

    As for the grants mentioned, yes that is “free money” we would hate to lose out on but it does make sense to spend an equal amount (or more) in order to receive the grants. Spend within our means.

    I love Guelph but I may have to move in order to afford housing in combination with other expenses. An increase in taxes would just tip the hat.

    Thank you for asking our opinion Cam. And being a responsible leader!!!

  14. […] any further on this opportunity.” (Cam Guthrie, February 2018)Now he has written a piece on his own blog in which he makes the statement:“This coming Monday is not the right time to make a decision […]

  15. Lin Grist Avatar
    Lin Grist

    Actually I respectfully disagree with you Mayor Guthrie – its been in the works for close to 30 years and I think its time to build the new library on the Baker street site on land that is owned by the public and stewarded for us by Guelph Council. We have an opportunity to get federal funding of some $30 million plus dollars to support the build. We managed to find $22 million for a parking lot. So why not a library for the whole community?

  16. Steva Rajkovic Avatar
    Steva Rajkovic

    Bravo Mayor Guthrie
    Well said. Wisdom and vision is what we need in a leader like your self.
    Thank you very much

  17. Patrick Case Avatar
    Patrick Case

    I’d like to see the library built, now. I can’t imagine circumstances are every going to be ‘clearer’. Every year there are new contingencies and there will be new reasons why the project should not go ahead.

  18. David Root Avatar
    David Root

    I agree, this is the wrong time for us to make this decision. Just say no!

  19. David Root Avatar
    David Root

    I agree, this is the wrong time for us to make this decision. Just say no!

  20. smellthatshoe Avatar

    I honestly would like the city to listen to the staff reports on what is and isn’t needed. The flip flop that city hall does on so many things is what ends up costing the city more money.

    Baker st for example. We had paid attendants for years. They were replaced by meters. Now just a few years later, those are being replaced with a gate system. Which still is not functioning. And in the next few years a library is going in that location. Why was also this done? And yes I did email the city and never heard a reply.

  21. Lesley Flaminio Avatar
    Lesley Flaminio

    While I could love to see a new library in town and could possibly even afford a few more dollars in taxes to help pay for it, I recognize that it is not fiscally responsible to undertake a huge debt for this library and there are many people who cannot afford more taxes to help fund the building. I am confident that the new library will happen, but when the timing is right. Thank you for your candid explanation Mr. Guthrie.

  22. Paul Looser Avatar
    Paul Looser

    They should be using the money for more responsible things like homeless and stopping the drug addiction. Those are our biggest problems in almost every city. That will save lots of tax payers money tackling those issues. It would make crime rates drop drastically which saves money, Less people tying up our courtrooms and hospitals which saves money, It will free a lot of our emergency resources and so many other excellent reason… As much as I would love to see the money used on the Guelph library… I rather see us tackling real problems and address the library funding once the huge problems are dealt with

  23. Alyson Avatar

    Though libraries are imprtant in our community. 67 milliom dollars seems an excessive amount. There are other ways the city could better invest that money to serve our community, such as improved transit, fixing the many potholes our icy winter caused, creating more bike lanes. I am for a new library, but think a more modest building could be built and still serve as a community space.

  24. Susan Watson Avatar
    Susan Watson


    Just like your initial tweets on sign By-law violations, you’ve got this one wrong out of the gate. The grants in question are administered through bi-lateral agreements between the Federal Government and the Provinces and all parties usually honour these agreements, regardless of election outcomes.

    Monday night will not be the final approval of the library design or business deal. That will likely happen in the New Year. Giving the green light Monday will allow the design team to move forward. Saying no or postponing a decision will have the City miss the window to apply for the grants and effectively close the door to this potential revenue source.

    Dropping the ball on up to $36.6 million of Federal grants is not leadership and it is not looking out for the thousands of Guelphites who live paycheque to paycheque.

    1. Rachel Guthrie Avatar
      Rachel Guthrie

      Actually Susan, this is leadership. This is looking out for the thousands of Guelphites who are living paycheque to paycheque!

      1. anne Avatar

        fully agree

      2. Susan Watson Avatar
        Susan Watson

        Hi Rachel:

        If Cam is looking out for Guelphites who are living paycheque to paycheque, then why are existing residents being tapped to subsidize growth to the tune of $122 million over the next 10 years? (Figures from the City Treasurer, Tara Baker).

        Public money should be used for public benefit not private benefit.

      3. Susan Watson Avatar
        Susan Watson

        Any delay will mean missing the window to apply for the Federal grant money. The deadline is November 12, 2019. Kissing a $36.6 million lottery ticket goodbye is not leadership.

        And Monday night’s vote is not a budget approval. The Business Terms of the Agreement are not going to be approved and signed until 2020.

      4. Darcel Bates Avatar
        Darcel Bates

        The thousands living from paycheque to paycheque need the library as much as, or even more than, anyone. Please refer back to the mayors previous comments where he promotes the need for the library. Maybe it depends which side of his mouth he is talking out of?

      5. Dana Nuttley Avatar
        Dana Nuttley

        Except many who live paycheque to paycheque use those services. Makes your point moot.

    2. anne Avatar

      Vote No Cam get the message across this is only a wnt by Friends of Library let them have a fund raising to pay for want not the tax payers of Guelph

      1. Patrick Case Avatar
        Patrick Case

        I want the library. Who or what is ‘Fiends of Library’?

    3. Louis Marchesano Avatar
      Louis Marchesano

      Should have asked Farbridge for new library instead of waiting, you had three terms to ask but you let those opportunities go.

      I support something a little less expensive as the current cost is a bit steep.

  25. Margaret Langton Ahlers Avatar
    Margaret Langton Ahlers

    We need to approve the recommendation now and proceed with this crucial project.
    A university city without a proper public library is a disgrace. Public libraries are the most democratic institutions. Everyone is welcome and everyone benefits. It’s time for Guelph to grow up.

    1. anne Avatar

      Maybe you should check the U of G has there own library for all U of G students and also the community Crucial that is a bit exaggerated is it only a want not a need

  26. Jesse & Kelly Avatar
    Jesse & Kelly

    Dear Cam

    If you are worried about the coming election bringing in a party that doesn’t support infrastructure spending on things our community needs, like a new library, I suggest you do your part to help that party NOT GET ELECTED rather than telling us we can’t afford what we all pay so much to get. I want my tax dollars used to build a new library in Guelph. And I will vote for a candidate that supports that and cares to make it happen. How about you?

    Jesse Merrill

    Begin forwarded message:

    From: Mayor Cam Guthrie Subject: [New post] Should #Guelph Approve a $67 Million Library on Monday? Date: September 13, 2019 at 4:42:43 PM EDT To: Reply-To: Mayor Cam Guthrie

    1. anne Avatar

      I will vote for people who are against wasting our tax dollars on unneeded $67million dollars useless library putting taxes increase even to the extent of keeping it operating so never ending tax increases. Monies that could be used for housing for lower income, a desperately needed new hospital as Guelph grows Mayor Guthrie we implore you to push for either a smaller building or relocate the library to the old cooperators building at much less expense

  27. Judy Avatar

    Absolutely not. I know we do not know how funding is administered in many instances, however our hospital and health care are far more in need. While libraries were once the hub of a city,, those days are in the past. The satellite libraries offer parking, therefore given that choice, we are still a ‘driving ‘ town, and that will continue until the transit system is greatly improved. My daughter signed her son up for 3 library activities during March break. 2 satellite and 1 downtown. The satellite ones were packed, the downtown one … half full. That speaks volumes.

  28. Taylor McDaniel Avatar
    Taylor McDaniel

    Amen!!! Such a practical email to receive….


    Taylor McDaniel

    *This email was sent from my IPhone. Please excuse any grammatical/spelling errors.


  29. Victor McQuade Avatar
    Victor McQuade

    I’m with you Cam. Vic MCQuade

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