In their own words, candidates tell us a little bit about themselves and where they stand on the issues. Each day this week will feature a different ward.
Name: Michelle F. Bowman will be on the ballot. The F is for Francine after my beloved and feisty grandmother. My family calls me Shell. But in my neighbourhood most people know me as dog mom to Mystic – a goofy charcoal lab that greats everyone with a full body wag.
Occupation: Forensecology is the name of my home-based consulting business. Think forensics but with polluters as suspects and scientists as investigators. I’d hoped to move east for grad school but the opportunity to work with the world renowned environmental scientist Dave Schindler lured me west. We were able to rehabilitate nutrient polluted rivers in Banff, Lake Louise and Yoho National Parks. I continued the work with the support of Parks Canada for two decades until recently when it was incorporated into a broader national program.
How long have you lived in Guelph? Twelve years – the longest I’ve lived anywhere! I mostly grew up in Milton but spent a few years in Toronto, the suburbs of Montreal and Belwood. Moving around for school and work, I’ve also lived in London (Ontario), Edmonton, Algonquin, Utah and Saskatoon. I had plans to keep moving to Australia, Switzerland, Ireland and beyond. My family joked they we going to nail me to the floorboards. But Guelph felt like home and even a great government position in New Zealand didn’t entice me to leave.
Do you reside in the ward you are running in? I live in one of the semi-detached homes that back onto Ken Danby and Holy Trinity schools near Grange and Watson in the centre of Ward 1. To be honest, I started looking in more walkable neighbourhoods closer to downtown but I was drawn by the affordability and abundant parks. You’ll often find us on the trails of Laura Bailey, Yorklands, Smith Loop or Starky Hill. It’s been nice seeing little forests, pollinator gardens and libraries pop up in Ward 1 over the last 12 years.
Why are you running in this election? The root causes of social and environmental issues are the same and I want to help guide local solutions. My interest in politics first began when colleagues in the federal government were fired and libraries dismantled. I met Mike Schreiner at a coffee chat and volunteered on the spot. The Guelph Greens were recruiting potential federal candidates when the snap election was called last year and I decided to run. I’ve enjoyed working with Greens across the country but I’d like to be more involved in local issues and in a less partisan way.
What qualifies you to represent your ward? My qualifications to represent Ward 1 include local political experience, research training and commitment to equality.
When I first moved to Guelph 12 years ago, I joined the city’s River Systems Advisory Committee. I’ve held various positions in local riding associations over the past four years. Being a part of the Green Party of Canada shadow cabinet has been a highlight of my political experiences – we regularly rely on each other for advice. I have also met many inspiring and generous Guelphites as a result of being a candidate in the last federal election.
As a scientist, I’m trained to research complicated issues and separate knowledge from personal biases to make informed decisions. But perhaps most importantly, I know and love people from all walks of life and I consider their views and ideas equally.
Why should people vote for you? If elected, my primary focus would be city council work. I believe councillors should put issues important to people in their ward above their own goals and interests. The qualifications I listed above will help me prioritize competing issues and ensure our tax dollars are used effectively and efficiently. I enjoy researching solutions to social and environmental problems and using the knowledge to help build consensus.
What do you see as the main issues facing residents of the ward? Aside from the broader affordability issue described in response to the next question, the main municipal issue people in Ward 1 express concern about is transportation – driveway widths, public transportation, speed bumps and road safety. There is a handy reminder of which issues municipal, provincial and federal governments are responsible for in the About Us, Municipal 101 section of the amo.on.ca website.
On my street of semi-detached homes there is space for only one car on our original driveways so residents want to widen them. Advocates for better public transportation in the city oppose the incentive for more cars. Not everyone can currently get to work on public transit. Is it fair to provide people with detached homes more parking than people with semi-detached homes? Would limiting parking availability result in demand for lower housing densities?
What do you see as the main issues facing residents of Guelph on a broader scale? Affordability. Precarious housing and food insecurity shouldn’t exist in Canada and especially not in Guelph. Prices of essentials went up before many people had a chance to recover from pandemic restrictions. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to see young and long-time Guelphites move out of the city because they can’t afford to live here. And I wonder how many people are silently struggling under the strain.
What is the most important thing you want to see changed in Guelph? My initial interest in politics was sparked by environmental protection but social issues are equally important to me and have the same root causes. I would like the City of Guelph to continue to focus on the well-being of people and the environment by clarifying priorities, incorporating more diverse viewpoints, finding novel efficiencies, building more consensus and striving for leadership.
What services need to be improved in Guelph? The pandemic highlighted unacceptable weaknesses in long-term care and social supports. I personally feel fortunate to live in Ward 1 and in Guelph so I have few gripes. Like many people in Ward 1, I would like to be a short walk away from services such as a grocery store and able to more safely bike downtown. There are two dog parks in Ward 1 but many people would prefer designated trails where they can walk their dogs off leash.
Is Guelph growing too fast, just the right amount, or not fast enough? This is a tough question for me to answer. I know Guelph has a mandate to grow but I feel strongly that is not the question we should be asking. As I’ve mentioned before, I think we should prioritize the well-being of people and the environment. For example, promote the transition to desirable green jobs. If well-being is improving, I don’t mind if Guelph grows faster, slower or at the same pace.
What can be done at the local level about the rising cost of housing? Municipal governments will need to collaborate with the federal and provincial governments as well as other organizations to solve the housing crisis. As a Green, I’m proud of both our federal and provincial housing platforms. The federal strategy aligns closely with the votehousing.ca platform and includes building supportive housing and curtailing the financialization of rental housing. The provincial platform received accolades for its roadmap to connected, affordable and sustainable housing.
What can be done locally about the homelessness issue? Guelph and Wellington County are fortunate to have knowledgeable advocates for the elimination of homelessness and poverty. This summer, Guelph city council voted to financially support the HomeForGoodGW.ca campaign to build three supportive housing projects by 2023. Supportive housing provides voluntary support to assist people with complex needs such as mental illness, disabilities, substance use disorders and health conditions to live independently and keep their homes.
Homelessness is not inevitable and these solutions make sense economically, socially and morally. Guelph can join a growing number of communities in North America that have ended homelessness. If you’re interested, check out the short documentary, Good People: Between the Cracks, that tells the story of how Medicine Hat Alberta ended homelessness.
How do we make Guelph an even better city to live in? Build community. The ultimate goal is a city (and planet) where everyone’s needs are met within our economic and environmental means. We are lucky to have strong political engagement in Guelph and could build stronger consensus on issues such as Indigenous reconciliation, racism and policing. Voter apathy in recent elections was concerning. I strive to run a campaign that’s less about canned messages and signs and more about getting to know and understand each other better.
Any link to an election website or social media account: Visit www.michellebowman.ca for more information and links to my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.