The city isn’t doing enough to combat affordability issues and the impacts of climate change, as well as achieve food security for residents … but it could.
That’s the message delivered again and again by candidates running to represent wards one, two and three on city council during an election forum held Tuesday afternoon by 10C and SDG Cities, which supports the localization of United Nations’ sustainable development goals.
“Trickle-down economics hasn't delivered anything to the people who have the least among us,” commented incumbent Ward 2 3 candidate Phil Allt. “We need to, in many respects, become an activist council.”
A common theme among the participating candidates was the need to increase efforts to advocate for financial assistance from the provincial and federal governments to build affordable housing, as well as achieve climate change reduction targets and reduce poverty.
“We can’t do it by ourselves,” said Ward 1 candidate Erin Caton, calling on upper-tier governments to “do their jobs” by providing more supports for people in need, such as raising Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works benefits.
“We need to get developers involved (in lobbying for increases). … The Ford government listens to developers,” she added.
“We’re a wealthy community. We can definitely afford to house everyone in Guelph,” said Ward 2 incumbent Rodrigo Goller, who would like to see a universal basic income program revived. “It’s an untenable situation.”
Allt championed the creation of a fuel tax for Guelph, similar to the one in Toronto, to help pay for initiatives within the city that there isn’t currently funding for, or not enough.
“Socio-economic inequity is a reality in this city,” commented Morgan Dandie of Ward 2, who said she lives off $733 per month through government assistance.
Even without that upper-tier aid, there are things that can be done at the city level to ease the situation in the short-term, candidates claimed.
Among the ideas expressed during the meeting were:
- Provide city funding for community gardens, not just permission to use city lands (Caton)
- Revise bylaws that restrict where fruit trees can be grown in the city (Caton)
- Increases urban agriculture initiatives (Carly Klassen, Ward 2)
- Whenever possible, hire municipal staff and others from within the city so they know better what the community needs (Goller)
- Pay community members whom city staff consult on various issues for their time and knowledge (Elias Morrison, Ward 2)
- Guelph PRIDE and other organizations representing marginalized groups should receive city funding (Caton)
- Relief from development charges and other city fees for affordable housing projects (Allt)
- Allow more multi-family buildings throughout the city (John Bertrand, Ward 3 and Goller)
- Dedication of more funding for affordable housing so the city can take advantage of provincial and federal funding programs (Goller)
- Creation of a vacancy tax on unoccupied buildings (Dandie)
- Development of community greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for every term of council (all in attendance except Ward 1’s Chidi Nwene, who suggested yearly targets)
Several candidates called for improvements to the city’s transit system, with more frequent buses, as well as enhanced infrastructure to promote active transportation – both aimed at reducing private vehicle use and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.
Dandie, who said she’s a regular transit user, issued a call for residents to file a complaint every time a city bus is late or another issue arises so that city staff can get a better understanding of the extent of problems.
“They don’t have the data (needed to fix things),” she said.
There were 11 candidates who participated in the event, held at the 10C across from city hall, of the 22 running in wards one, two and three. Some candidates who didn’t attend sent regrets, while others didn’t.
Many of the participating candidates called for a greater diversity of voices around the council horseshoe, as well as among city staff, in order to better reflect the community.
“I want to bring diversity to city hall,” said Ward 1 candidate Chidi Nwene, noting he was the only candidate of colour to take part in the event. “We need to change the way we do things in order to get different results.”
“We need to have a very collaborative council (with different lived experiences) … because we’re stronger together,” noted Ward 3’s Michele Richardson, a sentiment expressed by several candidates.
Diversity should extend to the city’s various advisory committees, stated Goller.
Other changes to the advisory committee are needed, Caton, a member of the city’s Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC), noted.
That includes having council members attend committee meetings regularly, with committee reports and advice presented directly to council rather than first being “distilled” by city staff.
She called on council to pay more heed to what advisory groups have to say, illustrating her point by explaining the AAC advised against the use of speed humps as traffic calming measures because they can be jarring, but its advice wasn’t taken. In turn, a woman who was being taken to hospital by ambulance and suffered an additional injury as a result of the speed humps.
“If the city had actually listened to the equity groups, that wouldn’t have happened,” she said.
10C and SDG Cities will host a similar event next Wednesday, between 4 and 6 p.m., featuring candidates running in wards four, five and six.