In their own words, candidates tell us a little bit about themselves and where they stand on the issues. A different ward will be featured each evening this week.
Name: Cathy Downer
Occupation: Mediator/city councillor
How long have you lived in Guelph? 45 years
Do you reside in the ward you are running in? Yes
Why are you running in this election? Guelph is a great place! We have a lot to celebrate.
We all want to live in a healthy, safe and sustainable community that supports the well being of everyone. However, many residents have expressed concern about how we maintain the qualities we love about Guelph as we grow to meet the provincial population targets of 208,000 people by 2051. We need to look beyond the numbers and ensure we consider livability. There are many challenges – pandemic recovery, climate change, impacts of growth and care for vulnerable people….and this list could go on.
As a city councillor, I have taken a leadership role and have been influential on many issues with positive outcomes, such as protecting our urban forest and green spaces, preserving our heritage, gaining additional funding for the Neighbourhood Support Coalition and advocating for road safety to name a few.
It has been an honour to serve! I believe I can continue to be an effective and responsive voice on city council making wise, informed decisions today with a vision to the future.
What qualifies you to represent your ward? I bring extensive experience and community knowledge – both as a city councillor and as a community volunteer.
My background as a mediator and my record show that I am a ‘bridge builder’ who works collaboratively with others to find solutions to the many challenges that we face and to plan for future generations.
I understand the need to build positive relationships with fellow councillors, city staff, neighbourhood groups and community partners in order to create a respectful environment for community building and decision making. Being available to constituents with an ability to listen is a key skill for anyone wanting to represent a diversity of opinions. Different points of view are healthy and a reflection of our community!
In my job as a city councillor, I have devoted the time and attention required to stay informed and engaged with the community. I am dedicated.
I am a long time resident of Guelph and of Ward 5.
Why should people vote for you? In past elections, I have promised to be committed, collaborative and connected to the community I serve. I believe I have kept that promise.
I have been an accessible, available and responsive Ward 5 councillor. I strive to be well informed on the many complex issues coming before council. I always do my homework!
I have built positive relationships with fellow councillors, staff, neighbourhood groups and community partners. It has been a priority for me! I believe that working toward consensus always leads to the best decision making.
My greatest passion has been staying connected to and engaged with the community I serve through town hall meetings, newsletters, social media, neighbourhood meetings and responding to individual constituent concerns. Now we have Zoom!
I will continue to be committed, collaborative and connected and ask for your support to be your Ward 5 representative for the next four years.
What do you see as the main issues facing residents of the ward? Ward 5 is composed of many unique neighbourhoods and communities including the University, Village by the Arboretum, Stone Road Commercial District and the high density corridor along Gordon St near Arkell Road. Each has its own character and issues.
The general themes I hear are:
- Community and Road Safety
- Protection of our trees and green spaces
- Impacts of growth
- Student housing
What do you see as the main issues facing residents of Guelph on a broader scale? My wardmate, councillor Caron, and I conducted a survey in the past year and found that climate change was a significant broader concern (59.4 per cent) along with housing affordability. Since the survey, inflation has emerged as another major concern. Most residents also recognize that homelessness, mental health and addiction is a crisis in Guelph and many other communities across the country.
What is the most important thing you want to see changed in Guelph? Recognizing the concerns of climate change, I would like to see more developers step up to help our city reach its net zero goal by 2050 with more environmentally sustainable development. Everyone needs to take responsibility! Developers can play a significant role with green, energy efficient design, tree canopy minimums for site plan, meaningful amenity spaces, permeable paving surfaces, and active transportation and transit supportive developments. Currently, we are not seeing enough of this. The development industry should be encouraged to be more innovative in their developments. The new zoning bylaw will help mandate better development but these are just minimums. With greater cooperation from all sectors we can achieve our goals for generations to come.
What services need to be improved in Guelph? It is important that services are reviewed on a regular basis for quality, cost effectiveness and to ensure our services align with the city’s strategic direction. In 2021, the city undertook a service rationalization review conducted by third party auditor. This ‘report card’ has been helpful to create budget priorities. The report identified a number of areas for improvement – most notably in digital services, development approval services, and the city’s fee structure. We need to continually update the review and monitor the progress from the many recommendations.
Transit is an area I believe requires continued attention and investment for improvements. There are many social, environmental and economic benefits to investing in transit. High density developments have been built along main roads and we need to keep up with the service needs in those areas. We have a goal of a 13 per cent modal share by 2031, meaning 13 per cent of all trips taken in Guelph will be by transit. It is currently seven per cent. We have lots of work to do! We have done the Transit Business Service Review, the route review and the Transit Action Plan and now we need to really move forward with implementation of the 10-year plan.
Is Guelph growing too fast, just the right amount, or not fast enough? The province has legislated that Guelph population reaches 208,000 by 2051. The recent census shows Guelph’s annual rate of growth at 1.7 per cent a year since 2016. This is in line with the city’s Growth Management Plan. The city has just updated its Growth Management Strategy. Our latest forecast is a 1.2 per cent growth rate until 2051.
Managing the rate of growth is incredibly important. Growth does not pay for itself. We use the rate of growth to plan for new infrastructure, facilities and services. Lack of planning or growing too fast can put an additional tax burden on existing residents and businesses. Services must keep up with growth.
Some of the concerns I often hear about are the impacts of growth on traffic volume and loss of green space and trees. It is important that we focus not only on the numbers, but the quality of new growth and preservation of the things that people care about. We need to ensure that new development comes with adequate amenity spaces and meets good urban design standards. Our newly approved transportation plan aims to address road congestion, connectivity and safety while encouraging all modes of transportation.
What can be done at the local level about the rising cost of housing? Fortunately, we have recently seen a decline in housing prices. Recent news reports a 15 per cent to 20 per cent reduction in prices in this area since earlier this year.
However, this doesn’t address the high cost of rent and the fact that, even at reduced prices, the cost is still too high for many to afford. The market is largely dictating these prices and Guelph is not alone. .
Increasing housing stock is not a stand alone solution. There are currently close to 300 homes available for sale in Guelph which is a dramatic increase from earlier this year. The city has a good long and short term supply of developable lands.
We need to encourage the development of a range of housing types available, and our updated zoning bylaw has removed exclusionary zoning, which will help diversify housing in new and infill development.
It will take the effort of all three levels of government to address housing affordability. It is difficult under current legislation to require developers to include affordable units in their development. I would like to see the province and federal government get back into building social, co-op and supportive housing.
What can be done locally about the homelessness issue? I think the homelessness issue needs to be tied in with mental health and addictions issues. Homelessness is a symptom of poverty and a lack of medical and social supports. Housing with proper supports is of primary importance to help tackle this problem.
The city needs to continue to facilitate the development and additional funding for supportive housing projects. The Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness and Community Safety has reconvened, and a new strategic advisory group is to focus on supports for vulnerable people in the downtown and across the city. The city is trying to help fill the gaps.
HOWEVER, this is not going to get better without an integrated and comprehensive provincial/municipal response in terms of services, supports, prevention and equitable access. This is a public health issue that needs provincial attention.
Ontario’s Big City Mayors, of which our mayor is the chair, has been requesting an emergency meeting with the premier for two months with no response at this time. We need to continue to advocate and help those struggling and having difficulty accessing affordable housing, transportation and healthy food. I will continue to work with community partners and stakeholders to improve the lives of everyone.
How do we make Guelph an even better city to live in? This is the vision in Guelph’s Community Plan:
“We’re grounded in community and our deep connection to the environment. We look out for one another, celebrate our diversity and smile at each other in the streets. We are leaders who shape tomorrow. We tackle local and global challenges through innovations, art and action. And we’re committed to inclusive prosperity – because together, we’re stronger.”
A United Vision: Guelph’s Community Plan was completed after 18 months of research and extensive community engagement. It is YOUR plan. It informs our Strategic Plan and all of the other master plans in the works and approved in this term of council. Moving closer to the realization of this vision will make Guelph a better place to live, work, study and play.
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