In their own words, candidates tell us a little bit about themselves and where they stand on the issues. Each day will feature a different ward.
Name: Erin Caton (pronounced Kay-ton)
Occupations: I am an entrepreneur with a tech/food startup in progress, a contract product manager and I run a photography business. I also am the chair of the Environmental Sensitivities Coalition of Canada, a volunteer accessibility advocacy group I founded.
How long have you lived in Guelph? I have lived in Guelph with my daughter for three years. I was born in Hamilton, grew up mainly in Sudbury and have moved around a lot since then, but I landed in Toronto in 2016 and had the unfortunate circumstance of moving in beside a factory that was illegally operating in the basement of an apartment next door. The toxic fumes they blew into our yard, and the alley I walked her to school through, ended up giving both of us permanent chemical sensitivities. So after working for two years to shut them down I decided we needed to move to a greener city with better air quality. We visited Guelph and my daughter fell in love with Riverside Park, so we chose a home to live in that was on a trail route so we could bike to it. Our health has improved dramatically as a result, so I’m very glad to be here. Guelph is our home and where my daughter is going to grow up. We love it.
Do you reside in the ward you are running in? I live one block west from the new Ward 1 border on Victoria Road, right at the north of the city. So I’m technically in Ward 2, but I’m in an area that lacks services, walkable commerce, on demand bus routes and even sidewalks so I feel more connected to the new Ward 1 boundaries as they have a lot of the same issues that I have. Many friends in Ward 1 asked me to run because they were unhappy with their representation and I wanted to help them. I feel like an honorary resident and will enthusiastically represent the people in Ward 1.
Why are you running in this election? I really enjoy helping people and solving problems. I have been working with the city on issues in my neighbourhood since I moved to Guelph. I was appointed by council to the Accessibility Advisory Council of Guelph to help in an official capacity last year and have learned a lot about the insider roadblocks to getting issues fixed. I also volunteer with the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition and advocate for people who are living in non-profit run housing to have their mould and water damage issues fixed. I do a lot of the work a city councillor is supposed to do right now, without the official designation and I wanted to be able to help more effectively. I’m a project manager, so I see systems in a different way. I’d love to make our city more efficient, inclusive, safe and affordable.
What qualifies you to represent your ward? I have decades of experience running successful products in large companies like Apple, fine-tuning budgets and ensuring the best choices are being made. I run a volunteer coalition and my own businesses. I have the skills and background needed to make important decisions for Ward 1 and Guelph. I am a homeowner so I deeply feel the pinch of raised property taxes and I’m a single parent so I know which compromises to make to ensure everyone is living their best lives while staying within budget.
I was on social services in my youth and relied on food banks, so I understand the importance of helping people through the hard times and making a city livable and affordable for everyone. I bike, drive, and before developing chemical sensitivities, I exclusively used public transit. Our representatives need to be able to empathize with people in every situation, and I have personally been in many circumstances so I can fight for all the people in Ward 1 equally.
Most importantly, I really care about others. When you make decisions that affect people’s lives, you should want what’s best for everyone.
Why should people vote for you? I want to do the work and will put in the time required to help you when you call me. I’m not satisfied when the system can’t fix your issue and go above and beyond to try and change broken processes. I’m creative, caring and frugal with other people’s money. I want Guelph to be a city we all enjoy and can afford.
All too often certain councillors show up without having read the materials, and make decisions without asking the hard questions. I am a researcher, I always want to know more. I want to know what you think and care about your opinions. I am not taking developer’s money to fund my campaign. That means I am only working for you and will make decisions that benefit you. I will make Guelph an even better place to live.
What do you see as the main issues facing residents of the ward? Ward 1 has the poorest service coverage in the city. A lack of walkable commerce and groceries due to zoning, poor transit, no post office and few options for small businesses to sell their goods. Now that Ward 1 doesn’t have a portion of downtown attached I hope to address this huge oversight and bring an equitable level of service options to Ward 1 residents.
What do you see as the main issues facing residents of Guelph on a broader scale? Balancing growth of the city with affordability and managing environmental impacts. We were recently voted one of the top cities to live in and that was in large part due to our parks, green spaces and image as a healthy city. We need to really live up to that reputation or else we just become a smaller Toronto.
What is the most important thing you want to see changed in Guelph? Guelph needs to be a city that everyone can thrive in. Physical and economic barriers to city services are a huge obstacle. Disabled people, seniors, parents who need strollers and low income families pay the same rents and property tax as everyone else but can access only a portion of the services. We can do better creating accessible infrastructure and sliding scale pricing. Easy access is beneficial to all because everyone ages and your circumstances can change in an instant.
What services need to be improved in Guelph? Snow removal is spotty and sidewalks are rarely cleared, let alone bus stops. We end up with a line of ice boulders at the end of driveways when the streets are done. This isn’t just an inconvenience, but a health hazard. Studies show men aged 50 and older are at a high risk for heart attacks shovelling snow, so clearing those end caps is dangerous. Snowy sidewalks cause falls, people who use mobility devices are trapped in their homes and parents can’t use strollers.
Last year the Supreme Court ruled that sidewalk accidents due to snow are a municipal liability, so the city has to do better. We need increased accessible transit, trails and safe bike lanes as well as playgrounds/parks everyone can use. Services designed for people of all ages and abilities. Road safety is another big concern. Speed cameras have been shown as an effective tool to slow drivers in cities like Mississauga, which is increasing their locations. We need to use traffic calming measures that pay for themselves over time and don't slow down fire trucks and ambulances like our recent install of speed bumps does.
Is Guelph growing too fast, just the right amount, or not fast enough? Guelph is expanding outward faster than it needs to, rather than building within the city limits where city services already exist. This causes issues like the St. Clair-Maltby secondary plan expansion which is going to cost Guelph residents $40 million to construct because those charges aren’t covered by developer fees. It also causes negative environmental impacts.
We were given a growth mandate by the provincial government, and the council didn’t push back on that. If the province wants us to grow, they should provide the funding for that growth. This ends up raising our property taxes and fees for services like garbage collection, water and recreation centre programs. Raised property taxes leads to raised rents. We are already the most expensive city to live in out of the surrounding towns who have higher populations. We need to have transit services to match the new population and we can’t even keep buses running for our current riders. Our growth plan is not sustainable or affordable for residents, but it could have been if the right choices were made a few years ago.
What can be done at the local level about the rising cost of housing? Approve higher density developments within existing service areas in the city that do not need as many environmental reports or decade-long approvals/ multiple redesigns, so the developer overhead costs are lower. If we build where we have existing utilities, on properties without environmental impacts, we don’t need high developer fees to cover those costs. Insist on accessible rent-geared-to-income rental units in all new developments in exchange for modified developer fees. If we are going to give discounts, they should be conditional upon affordability. Negotiate maximum pricing limits on these builds. Expanding the city out costs more for everyone. We need to build up.
What can be done locally about the homelessness issue? Push back on the province to do their job and fund accessible low income housing as well as demand they increase social service incomes like the Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works. Work with the federal government, Wellington County, and local non-profits to help fund local housing initiatives and offer tax incentives to groups who build rent-geared-to-income housing. Create property tax rebates for homeowners who rent to people who use social services. The best way to end homelessness is to give people a place to live.
How do we make Guelph an even better city to live in? We need to think creatively about how we build our city and deliver our services. Really listen to our community about what affects them the most. Find the core issues and be willing to step outside the status quo to solve them. Prioritize the people who live here and the rest will follow.
Any link to an election website or social media account: www.erinward1.ca