Sunday, October 26, 2014

How local government can be a force for good in our lives

As the last blog post of my election campaign, I wanted to express why being involved in politics makes me feel alive, and why I believe that municipal government can play such an important role in improving our lives.  

In 1991, the town of Hudson, Quebec, was the first municipality in Canada to ban the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes. Pesticide manufacturers fought the town all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, and they lost. In 2008, the Ontario government enacted a similar ban province-wide.

In 1996, the Region of Waterloo was the first municipality in Ontario to ban smoking in restaurants and bars. In 2006, the Ontario government enacted the same ban province-wide.

My point with these two examples is this: municipal government is the perfect arena to implement and test new ideas at a small scale.

I care about street-level concerns: they affect our day-to-day lives, and the smooth delivery of municipal services allows us to carry on with whatever each of us has chosen as our way to contribute to society. But I'm passionate about the bigger picture because when a bold idea is given a chance, and people realize that their lives have improved and the sky didn’t fall, it’s a catalyst for change on a much larger scale. 
And that’s a force for good. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The benefits of meaningful consultation

I like to use the skyscraper analogy to illustrate why I am such a strong proponent of meaningful consultation between Council, city administrators and residents. When construction on a skyscraper begins, workers spend what seems like months and months several hundred feet below ground with seemingly little to show for it. Then suddenly they are at grade level, and one new storey goes up every week: the construction crew spent the time required to build a solid foundation and the rest progressed at a much faster pace. Similarly, it's important to make the effort upfront to gather input from various interest groups, and diligently consider all of the undoubtedly divergent views and opinions. Otherwise, we spend a lot more energy repairing mistakes: we end up with complaints about the installation of an internet structure in the wrong place in St George's Park, a decrease in transit ridership, or hundreds of residents petitioning against a proposed zoning change near the Starwood library. Although addressing these various concerns proactively takes more time and effort initially, it is well worth it to ensure a solid foundation on which initiatives can then move forward at a healthy pace. 

Should I be elected as Councillor, I am committed to discussing municipal proposals with my constituents ahead of time, and I am committed to reporting back on how I voted at Council meetings and why. Please get in touch with me by phone or email: I look forward to including you in my Ward 1 Resident Network.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Increasing the well-being of low-income families

I have talked to a number of residents that are extremely grateful and pleased with the City’s Affordable Bus Pass program. Given its success, I support piloting a similar program for recreation and cultural events. If it results in children using municipal recreation facilities that weren’t at all before due to cost, then it’s a win-win. I would also like to see more partnerships with the private sector; the free Tim Hortons swims, for example, are extremely popular. It warms my heart to see the Lyons and VRRC pools filled with laughing children during those sponsored swims. 

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. From a moral standpoint we ought to, as a society, work towards improving the lives of disadvantaged families and children. Furthermore, every time we invest in the well-being of a disadvantaged child, we are saving societal costs down the road in the form of law enforcement, unemployment, and health care. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Baker St Redevelopment and the Downtown Library

I’ve had several people ask me for my stance on this topic over the last few days, so I thought it was worth addressing on my blog.

My understanding is that the conceptual proposals for the Baker Street parking lot at this point include  residential units (from 110 to 300), open space, underground parking, and a new library.

I think there is consensus that a surface parking lot is an unfortunate use of prime downtown land. For this reason, I support turning the Baker Street parking lot into something more.

I support the inclusion of residential units in the redevelopment plan: I think there is consensus that increasing the number of people residing in the downtown will increase foot traffic, thereby benefiting downtown businesses and our city as a whole.

I support underground parking: as I mentioned in an earlier post on my blog, the lack of parking in the downtown is a disincentive to go there for a lot of people. Losing the Baker Street surface parking lot would only make things worse if new parking spaces are not created to offset the loss. If the hydrogeology allows it, underground parking is definitely the way to go. Who likes to look at a bunch of parked cars? Who likes to leave their car baking in the sun?

Which brings us to the most controversial component of the redevelopment plan: a new downtown library. I believe in libraries. When I was a girl, my father used to take my sister and I to the library every Saturday. Now that we are in 2014, my 14 year-old step-daughter and my 10-month old son both enjoy going to the library, despite the Internet age. People who can’t afford computers conduct job searches using library computers. Libraries reduce waste: instead of subscribing to magazines and newspapers that get thrown out after one use (not judging here: I do get my Saturday Globe and Mail delivered at my door), they get re-read by multiple people. Videos don’t need to be bought and thrown out; they can be borrowed. Children’s books, which are expensive to buy and have short lifespans in private households due to the fact that kids grow up so fast, remain available for many families to enjoy year after year.

So I support libraries as an important public service. But, as some residents have asked, do we really need a downtown library when we already have so many neighbourhood libraries? The answer is yes, because a downtown library is the downtown’s neighbourhood library! The next closest library to the south is on Scottsdale, the next closest one to the west is on Imperial, and the next closest one to the east is almost at Victoria. So, in Ward 1 alone the downtown library is the neighbourhood library for everyone living west of Metcalfe and everyone in St Patrick’s Ward.

At the end of the day, the concern people have about a new downtown library is not the library per se, but the cost of it. I hear you. I agree that we don’t need an extravagant venue. Furthermore, I want to explore offsetting the capital costs with private sector money by, for example, renting out commercial space within the building for a cafĂ© (and shake the perception that libraries are stale places while we’re at it). It sure works for Chapters and Starbucks. And how about this novel idea: let’s offer a babysitting service in the children’s department, so parents can go run errands in the downtown. It’s a win for the library in the form of added revenue, a win for downtown businesses, a win for the parents and a win for the kids.

Supporting a new downtown library is not a simple yes or no answer because it all depends on what the plan will be. I will only support a plan that is within our means. I commit to seeking your views on the options and their cost in a meaningful manner.