City council can’t tackle issues of housing affordability, food insecurity, equality and climate change on its own – that’s something that will take a variety of voices and community participation, as well as buy-in from developers, corporations and upper-tier levels of government, in order to make significant headway.
On this, all eight of the ward four, five and six candidates who participated in an election forum hosted by 10C and SDG Cities on Wednesday afternoon can agree.
“Inequality can be reinforced through design. That’s not just design of our public spaces but also design in our public policy,” commented Ward 6 candidate Chetna Robinson. “Quite frankly, we don’t know what we’re not talking about.”
“A strong organization is a diverse organization,” added Hesham Genidy of Ward 5, who called for greater cultural diversity among elected officials and city staff. “We have to make it very clear we are inclusive.”
“We want to see more diverse thinking,” said Ward 4’s Hitesh Jagad, who noted he’s able to describe somethings in his native language but can’t find the English equivalent words – something others surly experience when interacting with the city. “People that are coming from different ethnic communities, they’re coming with a different experience.”
Those experiences may result in changes that can be applied to efforts locally, he noted.
Listening to the community, specifically marginalized groups, is key, candidates generally agreed.
“It’s really important to get voices in community plans,” added Ward 4’s Linda Busuttil, who joined others in calling on elected officials to attend cultural events to hear directly from residents who might not otherwise engage with the city for a variety of reasons.
“If groups in our community don’t have those resources (such as access to subject expertise or computers), it’s not fair to say ‘Hey, come and engage with council’ because it’s not meaningful engagement.”
“There are a lot of groups who don’t feel their voice is heard. … We need to be promoting and respecting the voices of everybody in our community,” said Adrian Salvatore of Ward 4. “It’s that engagement that I think is the most important thing.”
Listening, learning and unlearning past teachings isn’t meant to be comfortable, stated Ward 5’s Leanne Caron Piper.
“Cultural humility is hard,” she said. “We have to shut up and listen.”
On the issue of Truth and Reconciliation, Cathy Downer, Ward 5 incumbent, said the city needs to hear how the Indigenous community wants to move forward.
“We all need to acknowledge what happened first,” she said, referring to the treatment of Indigenous individuals at so-called residential schools. “We should help facilitate what they want.”
Several candidates acknowledged the city has little control over the building code and planning regulations, expressing a desire for the provincial government to increase requirements for net-zero technology in new builds.
“Developers have to be our partners on this,” said Caron, noting she’s frustrated by builders promoting LED lighting and energy efficient appliances as their contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “This is no longer good enough. The low-hanging fruit is gone.”
“They build what’s best for their bottom line,” added fellow incumbent, Ward 6 candidate Mark MacKinnon of developers. “We have no way to directly (require more from developers).”
Busuttil, who is currently chair of the Upper Grand District School Board, said it’s been “extremely frustrating trying to engage with the city” on those issues from a school board perspective.
So what can the city do on its own to address social issues such as homelessness, climate change and food insecurity? Candidates had several ideas:
- Make more public space available for things such as community gardens (Caron)
- Continue with programs such as the the Smart Cities circular food economy efforts, done in conjunction with the County of Wellington and funding community organizations through the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition (MacKinnon)
- Improve public transit to make it more useful to residents (Salvatore)
- Work to expand the city’s tree canopy and develop green corridors (Robinson)
- Provide seeds to residents for their own gardens (Robinson)
- Change bylaws to allow people to pick and eat fruit/mushrooms found in local parks and forests (Busuttil)
- Consider zoning areas for only tiny homes in order to provide housing affordability (Genidy)
Only eight of the 18 candidates running for council positions representing wards four, five and six participated in the event.
A similar forum was held last week for candidates running in wards one, two and three. Eleven of the 22 candidates took part in that forum.