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MEET WARD 5 CANDIDATE ... Leanne Caron

In their own words, candidates tell us a little bit about themselves and where they stand on the issues
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Leanne Caron is running for city councillor in Ward 5.

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: Leanne Caron (formerly Leanne Piper)

Occupation: City councillor, Ward 5; manager, student housing, University of Guelph

How long have you lived in Guelph? Thirty plus years inside Guelph. Grew up just outside of Guelph (Arkell).

Do you reside in the ward you are running in? Not anymore (boundary change), sadly. I lived in Ward 5 for 25 years, raised my kids in Ward 5, and still work in Ward 5. I am deeply connected and understand the current issues and concerns of Ward 5 residents.

Why are you running in this election? I love this city and its citizens. We are on an unknown trajectory right now and need stable, strong leadership. We are evolving quickly and are one of the fastest growing municipalities outside the GTA. We must keep an eye on the impact of our decisions – for today and future generations. I am passionate about sustainable city building, climate change, protecting our water, affordability and community safety. I am worried about the potential impact of some of the latest provincial announcements about veto powers, ministerial zoning orders and lack of funding for health, social services and social housing. Lastly, I want to finish what I started on initiatives still underway such as the Baker District, main branch library, multi-year budgeting, community energy, the Innovation District, Clair-Maltby Plan, cultural heritage plan, and our new zoning bylaw.

What qualifies you to represent your ward? I have worked in the public, private and non-profit sector, and understand the value of hard work and leading a team. I have been a community volunteer for decades (see my website for a list) and sat on many local boards, city advisory committees, school councils, and became involved in local politics as a concerned resident. I was first elected as an Upper Grand DSB trustee and am currently serving as Ward 5 councillor. As a working mom of four kids, I learned how to make ends meet and juggle multiple priorities.

Recently, as sole caregiver to aging parents, I have navigated the healthcare system during COVID, long-term care challenges and living on a pension. During my MA (leadership) my research focused on municipal government representation. I currently work in the housing sector (student and family housing at U of G) and fully understand the local affordable housing crisis. I know what makes a thriving city tick and it isn’t the roads and pipes - it’s the people, the arts, the parks and public spaces. These experiences have shaped me to know that city councillors need to listen and learn from diverse voices in the community before making decisions.

Why should people vote for you? I listen and learn first. I don’t belong to any political stripe or ideology and I represent my constituents with a value-focused approach. I do my homework and engage with the community through town halls, regular newsletter, attending neighbourhood events, social media, emails and always put people first. I think long-term and look at data, best practices and return on investment. I have loads of governance experience and I don’t consider myself a “politician”, but rather a public servant. The next term of council will have lots of new faces due to retirements, so we need experience and stability to hit the ground running.

What do you see as the main issues facing residents of the ward? The impact of growth and climate change is changing how Ward 5 functions. Added density, infill, urban design, tree canopy loss, rental housing, parking, traffic, transit, community safety, mental health and addiction and affordability are at the top of mind of Ward 5 residents. Longer-term issues like climate change, water protection and rising energy costs are also looming. Rising energy costs are putting pressure on transportation, food and household utility costs. Development of the Innovation District is on the Ward 5 boundary. Purpose-built student housing is entirely within Ward 5. Ward 5 residents are telling me they want more balanced decision-making and increased communication from city hall.

What do you see as the main issues facing residents of Guelph on a broader scale? Same as above. Ward 5 is diverse and our residents are a cross-section of urban and suburban, young and old, long-term residents and new families, every colour, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, age and cultural group. We are not an island. Ward 5 is located between downtown and the growing south end, and is experiencing the effects of outdated zoning and high traffic impacts along Gordon Street and Edinburgh Road. We want to protect our beautiful rivers and trails, Preservation Park and green spaces, and are feeling the pressure of infill and density. We can have both, without losing the identity that makes Guelph special.

What is the most important thing you want to see changed in Guelph? Less politics. I would like to see less political ideology on Council and more focus on shared community goals, building consensus, and stronger working relationships with all stakeholders – citizens, business, Chamber of Commerce, school boards, Wellington County, arts and culture and social benefit organizations, environmental groups, neighbourhood associations and the development community. Let’s finish what we start!

When we pause on important projects (South End Community Centre and main branch library) costs go up and they end up costing more.

What services need to be improved in Guelph? We are in a state of constant improvement and efficiency through technology and changes to best practices. We are always updating our customer service platforms, engineering, communications, urban planning, public works and city maintenance. We never stop. That being said, there are a few areas that need some attention this term. First, transit frequency and reliability. Our new On Demand service is a fantastic citizen-approved initiative and could use more resources. I would like to expand transit outside city limits so that it connects with Aberfoyle GO, Grand River Transit and employment areas outside of our boundary. Second, public engagement in a post-COVID world is changing and we need to put more resources into stakeholder communication and technology. Our “Have Your Say” portal is a great example of recent improvements, but we can go further with more accessible online interactive workshops, presentations and feedback loops.

Is Guelph growing too fast, just the right amount, or not fast enough? All three, depending on location. The Gordon Street corridor is growing too fast, the downtown is growing just the right amount, and our greenfields (the Innovation District) and brownfields (like IMICO) are not developing fast enough.

What can be done at the local level about the rising cost of housing? The causes (and solutions) to rising housing costs are complex and not unique to Guelph. We are at the mercy of a housing market outside of the GTA that is impacted by labour, materials, market demand, investment property values, and shortage of supply. “Build, build, build” is too simple a solution and doesn’t factor in the cost of growth and long-term impact of ignoring sound planning principles.

Most home builders and developers are for-profit market housing providers and what we need is more social, co-operative and supportive housing, which is where government intervention (at all levels) is most needed. Locally, we subsidize growth through taxation. We should be creating stronger planning policy that requires a percentage of below-market housing included in every new development application.

Housing is only one part of a larger affordability crisis puzzle. The ongoing cost of utilities, food and transportation added to rents (and mortgages) contributes to the problem. All new housing built with public funds should be net zero and built with renewable energy generation and storage. This will lower the ongoing monthly carrying costs for residents.

What can be done locally about the homelessness issue? This past term of council has made incredible progress by supporting four new projects specifically targeted for our citizens experiencing homelessness. Council cannot solve the root causes of homelessness and mental health/addiction, nor can we turn a blind eye and hope that other levels of government will step up. We know that stable, safe housing is foundational. Here's what we can do at a local level: a) fund outreach workers in the downtown to direct access to services, b) incentivize and provide grants to supportive housing projects, such as Stepping Stones and Kindle Communities, c) support early intervention and community-based programs directly to neighbourhoods in need (through the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, Onward Willow, etc.), d) encourage more alternative-to-policing community safety programs and resources, such as Welcoming Streets, and the community paramedicine program e) strong advocacy with other levels of government for increasing ODSP, co-op and social housing funding, and mental health prevention and treatment. As an individual councillor, I will continue to do all of the above, as I have throughout my previous terms.

How do we make Guelph an even better city to live in? Let’s celebrate Guelph more. We are the envy of other municipalities. Businesses want to invest in cities that are proud of who they are and invest in city building. Let’s get the new main branch library built, more people living downtown, more parkland, develop IMICO and the Innovation District, plant more trees and incentivize climate change adaptation and carbon neutral growth. Let’s address root causes of homelessness, mental health and addiction and community safety through intervention at the neighbourhood level. The Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, GW Children’s Foundation, Grove Community Hubs and United Way are proven investments in poverty prevention and community well-being. It’s how caring communities look after each other. I am very proud that this past term of Council added our very first Senior Policy Advisor, Equity, Anti-Racism & Indigenous Initiatives. I look forward to her recommendations. We are working to add more diverse voices to our boards, committees and work force. Finally, let's celebrate our successes! Events, communications, and social media are great tools to tell the inspiring stories within our community. We have so much to be proud of already – let’s do more of it!

Any link to an election website or social media account?

Website: leannecaron.ca
Email: leanne@ward5.ca
Instagram: @leanneward5
Twitter: @ward5leanne
Facebook: leannecaron.councillor
Phone: 519-824-3840