Keeping Essential City Services Public:
The bottom line for the public sector should always be high quality service. Service that is dependable, responsive, and efficient. The public suffers most when it is made to compete with profit. The focus on services we rely on everyday should not be how much is being returned to the top, but how well those services are being delivered to everyone in the city. As a city, if we cannot be innovative and dependable in our service operations, we won’t remain a competitive place to invest in.
As Guelph grows and matures we need to be planning for where our services should be five years from now. City services need to be staffed for the future. We need to chart where there is potential for economic viability in the new circular economy. We need to collaborate to determine how growth will change operating structures from transit, to emergency services, to waste management.
Instead of putting strain on services and relying on overtime, it’s time to support and grow operations in this next stage of growth and development.
Embracing the Circular Economy in Waste Management
Waste can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. China’s rollback on imports of recyclable material has sent the global market into a tailspin, while here at home the short-term dollar cost to dispose of waste continues to increase. Moreover, the long-term is immeasurable as landfill waste contributes to almost 6% of all greenhouse gases in Ontario. It’s our responsibility as a municipality to be leaders in lowering our impact on the environment.
In a make-use-dispose culture, it starts with a change in perspective: how do we maximize the value of a product that’s reached the end of its life?
The 2018 Service Review outlined a long-term goal of developing a growth model. As cap and trade faces an uncertain future in Ontario, responsibility to keep costs low will come down to embracing innovative practices such as a circular economy to improve waste diversion through better resource recovery.
Offering recovered resources at a cost lower than raw materials has the potential to attract competition and new industry. Delivering a product through reintegration, regeneration, and waste reduction is what will differentiate us from other municipalities.
Movement to Meet Our Needs:
How we move determines the character of a city. The more choice we have, the less likely we are to rely on one mode of transportation. Planning a city starts from our own perspective. How our own safety or that of a loved one can be impacted will determine our likelihood to take transit or cycle. Our experience during a ten-minute walk can influence our decision whether we will take the same stroll again.
As climate change continues to impact decisions we make, it’s our responsibility to ensure that future infrastructure and development make active transportation and public transit a viable alternative.
And what’s good for the earth also happens to be great for the economy. An absence of reliable and effective public transit can often be a disincentive for new businesses to invest in a community. Chronically late or absentee employees may damage relations with businesses but they also effect the well being of those workers, which impact the individual, their families, as well as their relationship with the community.
As the city continues to grow and intensify, how people move needs to become a priority to mitigate congestion and a growing reliance on the automobile in a medium sized city such as Guelph.
Keep Transit Public:
We’re growing, and as a city we owe it to ourselves to ask not only what that growth will look like, but how it will operate. A maturing city needs a dependable transit system. For years, we’ve been stretching the system thinner and the results are clear: we have a system that has eroded ridership trust.
A dependable transit system is a necessity. It must provide dependable access to employment, education, healthcare, and amenities. Cancelled routes. Poor communication with riders. Low frequency. Schedules incongruent with shift-work. All of these factors have contributed to poor transit experience and frustration for users who depend on a system. In some cases it has turned riders away, further impacting overall cost. Moreover, these problems not only affect the daily experience of riders but also transit drivers. Long shifts, lack of breaks, relying on overtime to operate routes, and acting as the front-line to frustrated riders all contribute to a negative workplace atmosphere.
Transit shouldn’t be a stressful experience for those involved, and with rising pressure to lower carbon emissions, we need to create a system that encourages folks to ride instead of drive. The new Transportation Master Plan is set for release November 2018, however the following are priorities I am committed to for the future of transit in Guelph:
Transit Supportive Densities:
Identifying high volume routes and weighing long-term cost-effective measures to ensure frequency and dependability, including:
- Light Rail Transit (LRT), Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), or High-Speed Corridors
- Determining if the Downtown radial is at its limit
- Identifying needs for new hubs for increased frequency and effective transfers
- Making the necessary funding available to begin growing transit to meet population expectations by 2031 (approx. 175,000)
- Looking to better methods for communication on cancellation or delays
- Reevaluating costs for those most vulnerable in our community and those living on fixed incomes
- Expedite the process of receiving subsidized bus passe
- Recognize transit as an accessibility need and ensure all AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) requirements are prioritized when building or fixing transit infrastructure
Instead of driving, many are turning to active solutions such as cycling and walking. Active transportation is an exciting choice for many; however the decision to take part often comes down to safety. I want to encourage use by:
- Identifying key areas in the city where active transportation infrastructure (for both pedestrians and cyclists) is needed
- Pinpoint arterial routes in the city and determine what infrastructure is lacking from protected bike lanes to sheltered intersections
- Promote walkable communities and strengthen guidelines for pedestrians in the official City Plan
- Continue to work with Police Services on initiatives to lower theft of bicycles.
A maturing city comes with new challenges to deliver services efficiently and effectively. Moreover, building healthy relationships between police and communities is important to public safety. Unfortunately, crime rates rose in Guelph between 2017 and 2018, thereby increasing the number of calls to police services.
Although a multifaceted approach based on collaboration between community organizations and the police are often the most effective means of addressing crime, the growing demand for the service also demonstrates a need for more presence. In addition, changes in provincial legislation on timelines to deliver cases to court involving sexual assault and child abuse have put further pressure on staff.
A strained service is not a healthy one and addressing staffing concerns for police services needs to be addressed in the next budget. As the city continues to grow and crime becomes more complex, we need to ensure police services are properly staffed to mitigate fatigue, stress, and long term mental health struggles.
Operating out of six fire departments, with a 4-6 minute response, fire is the first response on site 80% of the time. Of the over 8,000 calls that come to the fire department a year almost half are tiered medical. In cases involving overdose, exposure to fentanyl and carfentanyl is an increasing risk to first responders. We need to be proactive to protect those who put their lives on the line everyday. We need to implement changes to allow firefighters to carry Naloxone and participate in training to administrate it to one another in case of contact during a call. In addition, explore new opportunities within legislation to determine if opting in to the provincial pilot project on fire-medics would benefit emergency services in Guelph.
With an increasing population, a growing aging population, as well as challenges such as the Opioid Crisis, Paramedic services face increasing demand to deliver a timely response. With well over 20,000 calls a year, steadily growing over the last two years, the number of staff and increasing volumes of calls needs to be addressed. Moreover, the long-term impact on how sustainable operations with no float or surplus staff is also a point of concern to alleviate exhaustion and stress related to trauma.
Over the next four years, how intensification will impact emergency services and hospital capacity will continue to be a growing source of contention. Continuing to partner with paramedic services to engage in pilot programs to reduce reliance on emergency room care will be an important initiative to alleviate costly uses of the healthcare system and free up paramedics availability.
The downloading of responsibilities on municipalities has significantly changed the roles of mayor and councillors over the last 20 years. Currently council has one full-time position, the mayor, and 12 part-time councillors. Engaging citizens is the most important step to encouraging participation in municipal politics. Creating a full-time position dedicated to building those relationships in each ward is an important step to growing civic engagement.
Much of the responsibility to participate in municipal politics is left for citizens to navigate on their own. Although calls for more transparency and accountability are necessary for a healthy democracy, so is fostering relationships between constituents and their representatives. As the city matures and the population grows, creating dedicated full-time council positions will redistribute the responsibility of engaging with constituents, and address barriers:
- A full-time position on council will change councillor’s roles and time spent on reviewing staff reports, replying to constituents, and resolving issues within their wards;
- A full-time position would result in less late-night meetings with pressured or hasty decisions and encourage a return to better governance
- Currently, a part-time council with a salary in the 50th percentile overwhelmingly benefits those who own a business, collect a pension, or have a second income, while creating a disincentive for others who cannot justify part-time service due to income barriers
Changing the structure of council would require a full review and comprehensive citizen engagement. Wages would be determined by a citizens remuneration advisory committee in accordance with other comparable municipalities.
Regardless of the level of elections an eligible voter cannot be denied their right to cast a ballot. Historically, voter turnout for municipal elections tends to be significantly lower than federal and provincial elections. However, compromising the democratic process to allow internet voting is not the solution to encouraging better voter turnout. There is no standard format for internet voting, limited transparency, and no way to ensure proper registration. Moreover, the ballot box adds a layer of security. It ensures an individual's privacy when voting and protects vulnerable folks from intimidation to vote in a certain way or their cards taken and voted for them. It is important to stress that for those who cannot make it to a polling station, arrangements are required to ensure everyone has the chance to vote.
Commitment to Public Space and Amenities:
Space plays a critical role in inspiring civic pride, fostering feelings of belonging, which overall raises the well being of a community. Whether it’s investing in infrastructure to create community nodes such as the new main branch library or the south-end recreational centre these are important places to inspire healthy living and creating relationships. Such facilities provide invaluable resources, educational opportunities, and programming to improve lives.
Also, with the rise of new development and intensification, it will be important to ensure that consideration for shared public/private space is included. Time and again, successful building practices have demonstrated spaces that engage individuals are ones that find a balance between public and private nodes so individuals can chose how much they want to interact or retreat. New projects will be the most successful if they are allowed to develop in such a manner, striking a balance between growth and maintaining Guelph’s character.