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What kind of council do you want next year?

This week's Market Squared looks forward to the election, and looks to the questions we should be asking as we go to vote
city council
Guelph City Council

In a few days 2017 will be over. We made it!

It was almost a year ago I started doing these Market Squared columns, and not focusing so much on election politics was one of the first topics. I fully expect though that as we get deeper into 2018 then election talk will be more and more unavoidable.

Yes, the horserace will now be inevitable, and some will be counting down the days, especially since we’ve got two elections this year. I expect that many of my conversations in the weeks to come will be about who I think is running, and what I think their chances are.

Before we get into all that though, let’s think less about the specifics and ask ourselves what kind of city council we want. This is not to say that I think anyone on the present council is replaceable, or that they should be replaced, but if we’re looking to change council we should be looking to a couple of areas.

First of all, gender parity. Believe it or not, it was just about 10 years ago that city council was majority women. And before you say this is some kind of Trudeau reflex, let me say that some of the criticism of council I see, blaming city troubles on the lingering influence of former Mayor Karen Farbridge over three years after she left office, smacks more than a little of misogyny.

Not only that, but there were some female candidates running for office in 2014 that were harassed or intimidated, either in pointed online bullying, or through juvenile antics like having their election signs stolen. I realize this is asking a lot of Guelph’s women, but the only way get past the pigs is to rub it in their face that women aren’t going to go back to the kitchen like they want.

We also need more diversity on council. Spend any time out and about in the city, and you will note that council isn’t exactly reflective of Guelph’s population in terms of people of colour. That’s not to say the situation is intentional, but maybe that’s the point.

One would think that finding qualified candidates shouldn’t be that hard, Guelph’s black population is very active and engaged with a long history in the Royal City, and many business owners and leaders trace their ancestry to Africa and Southeast Asia. And let’s not forget First Nations people, as they so often are forgotten. Our National Aboriginal Day festivities are a remarkable celebration, so we know how vibrant and proud our local Indigenous people are.

And since we’re crafting our demographically perfect council, let’s not forget the young people. Although some members (emphasis on *some*) of the university population threw my pre-emptive attempt dissuade the city of their status as troublemakers in my face, I stand by the assertion that many students are, dare I say, #GuelphProud.

Now, I’m not talking about undergrad students running for office, but I want to again make the point that a lot of today’s undergrads become tomorrow’s permanent citizens. Many young people get involved in activist movements or student government while at university, but maybe they feel like they don’t have a place here to continue the struggle. Let’s change that!

All this is rather ambitious, and I feel like it may be predicated on the fact that being a city councillor, for now, is still a full-time job masquerading as part-time. Presumably, the study that the City of Guelph was going to undertake two years ago was going to explore that question and if the diversity of council candidates might be affected by whether or not it’s technically a part-time job, but I think we can at least assume it’s a consideration.

Aside from the diversity of people though, I also think we need a diversity of opinion on council. There’s a lot of talk about dollars and cents, but what about the bigger picture.

During the recent budget debate, it was referenced a number of times that the City is being asked to go it alone on issues that were typically under the portfolio of higher levels of government, social housing and support being among them. It seems to me that a year with both a provincial and municipal election would be an ideal time to talk about separation of powers, and ultimately who’s responsible for the upkeep of our most vulnerable, but I feel that’s a pipe dream.

Part of the reason for that though, I think, is because council is not representative of the most vulnerable in the city. Money is always a barrier to access, and I’m not saying that the present mayor and councillors don’t care, but nothing keeps poverty more front of mind than living it daily.

And this can be said on a whole host of issues. Not to make everything about transit, but let’s talk about transit. Understanding some of the issue there-in begins with taking the bus, and I don’t just mean on a lark. I mean using the transit system to try and make appointments and meetings, or trying to squeeze in errands after a long day at work, or working long hours either before or after the daily bus schedule.

I have a fear though that this election isn’t going to be the grand debate I, and hopefully others, want about the big issues and the not-so-easy solutions. With Mayor Cam Guthrie affirming that he will “absolutely” run for re-election in 2018, it will be a referendum on whether or not he’s kept his promise to balance city needs with fiscal responsibility. In other words, taxes!

And if I have one more request for the coming election year, it’s this: if you’re going to make it a campaign plank that we pay too much in taxes, you must include precise areas on where we have to cut and why. Throw any 10 people in a room, and nine of them will tell you they pay too much tax, but can they tell you what they’d give up? Yard waste collection? Residential sidewalk plowing? City of Guelph branded stationary?

So in summation, Happy New Year, and let’s get ready to get political! More important than that though, let’s get ready to ask the right questions for our politicians.