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Guelph Politico is locally sourced and dedicated to covering the political and cultural scene in the City of Guelph. Est. 2008.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Candidate Questionnaire - Maggie Laidlaw (Ward 3)

1) Why did you want to run again for city council?

I can’t wait to see the fruition of all of the groundwork that has been laid for major projects in the next four years. I want to be there to see our city unfolding as not just one of the best places to live in Canada but THE best!
  • A new downtown transit terminal that links local and regional buses, as well as regional rail
  • A Green Building Strategy to move us even further along the path of environmental sustainability
  • Completion of the Organics Waste facility
  • Conversion of the former Loretto Convent to the new Guelph Museum
  • An influx of “clean and green” businesses in the Hanlon Creek Business Park and the York Road Guelph Innovation District
  • Completion of the Pollinator Park and Eastview Park
  • An innovative “live/work/play” district on the former LaFarge property
  • Downtown revitalization to improve the quality of our downtown and reduce the negativity associated with late-night problems
  • An increase in the number of affordable rental housing units, and in the availability of affordable home ownership
  • Significant reduction in the incidence and level of poverty in our midst
  • Etc., etc.
My pet projects are getting the new downtown library up and running sooner than 2015 and finding a permanent home for our Arts and Culture Community.

2) What initiatives/achievements are you proud of during the last term?
As an incumbent in Ward 3, I have to say that this council has worked so well together that I am going to list just some of our many achievements:
  • $48 million in badly-needed infrastructure funding from other levels of government;
  • Natural Heritage Strategy;
  • No! to a Lake Erie pipeline;
  • Water Conservation Strategy;
  • Community Energy Plan and Implementation;
  • Bicycle-friendly City Plan;
  • Waste Management Master Plan;
  • Organics facility back on track;
  • A tree bylaw update that will help to increase our tree canopy
  • A Transit Growth Strategy and Plan that will serve Guelph well into the 21st century
  • A long-term Capital Financing Strategy to ensure that any project presented to council comes with its sources of funding before a shovel goes in the ground
  • Etc., etc.
Personally, I am particularly proud of the fact that we have continued to expand our bike lanes, and, in fact, now have a bylaw in place which ensures that any road reconstruction and new road design includes bike lanes wherever possible. We still have a long way to go to become truly “bicycle-friendly”, but we are certainly moving in that direction.

3) Please describe your position/ideas on the following issues:

a) Taxes
While many on the right of the political agenda accused this council of being fiscally profligate (“big-time spenders”; “spending like drunken sailors” were just two of the expressions I heard, even on election night 2006), our taxes increased by 16.2 per cent in 4 years (average 4.05 per cent per year), compared to the 14.9 per cent in three years (average 5.56 pre cent per year) by a so-called fiscally conservative majority on council. In other words, that council majority delivered less and cost more in terms of tax increases during their three years than this council has in four years.
During this term, we moved significantly to curb the costs of growth, by instigating a cost-recovery program. We almost doubled development charges so that growth pays for itself and is not subsidised by existing residents. We believe in value for money! I was a minority member of the previous council and was outvoted by the majority most of the time. This council has delivered on the commitment of fiscal transparency and integrity: for example, $20 million in sewage savings due to optimization of current facilities, and $48 million in infrastructure funding from other levels of government and from Rink Rats’ fundraising efforts.
Municipal taxes are only 7 per cent of overall taxes, and give much more value for money than do other levels of government. Contrary to popular opinion, we are on the low end of property and other taxes, in comparison with other similar sized cities in southern Ontario (surveys done by independent assessment companies). We give value for money! For example, we have built maintenance costs into all of our facilities. Which would you rather have a slum landlord who keeps rents low but does no repairs and allows buildings to run down, or a landlord who builds small increases into rent costs, in order to maintain and upkeep buildings? We need to spend a buck to make a buck; people who make money invest strategically, and that’s what we do here in Guelph!
However, I still believe that property taxes are the wrong way to fund municipal services. At least a part of municipal revenue should come from municipal income taxes, just as provincial and federal taxes fund provincial and federal services. By this means, municipal taxes would be based on income and therefore on ability to pay, a much more equitable system than property taxes. I agree with the Canada West Foundation—wherever the bulk of taxation is on property owners, the system will never work properly. The alternative, a municipal income tax system, would mean that we benefit from economic expansion, while seniors on fixed incomes and young families with modest incomes will not run the risk of losing their homes because of increasing property taxes.

b) Budget
This council decided early in its term that the budgetary process needed to begin earlier in the year, with more directives from council to both our staff and our Boards and Commissions. This gave us all more time to come up with a budget that would be acceptable to the greatest number of people. We set a goal regarding the maximum increase that we felt could be tolerated by city residents, and often asked staff and boards to pare down their expectations and requests for expansion items. We have even had to ask for budgetary reductions, especially when the global recession hit. Any fat that may have been in our system has long since been cut, so we try to keep any further cuts to a minimum, in order to maintain services, particularly essential ones, for those who most require them. We also held budget nights for city residents, so they could have a say on what they saw as the most pressing budgetary items. This system has worked very well, and I will support its continuation.
We also introduced a Capital Financing Strategy, in order to ensure that any project presented to council came with its sources of funding already identified, long before a shovel goes in the ground. This allows us to keep our debt within reasonable limits and to plan strategically for the future.

c) Transit
Two of the major initiatives that will come to fruition next term of council are a new downtown transit terminal that links local and regional buses, as well as regional rail, and a Transit Growth Strategy and Plan that will serve Guelph well into the 21st century. We are also looking at a new electronic operating system for transit, and together, these initiatives will really put the focus on a strong, timely and accessible transit system throughout the city. We must make our transit system as convenient and reliable as the private automobile, while remaining affordable to all. I have always been a strong supporter of transit on council, and I have argues on several occasions against transit fare increases. Like other members of council, if I had known that voting for five days off without pay for all city staff, including members of council, would have meant cutting bus service, I would not have supported it. If we want to increase our ridership, we MUST keep fares down and service consistent and reliable.

d) Development/Infrastructure
Those are really two issues, interlinked. The Chamber of Commerce asked the following question of all those running in this election: What would you do to help facilitate development and speed the process in development applications? Here is my response:
I’m not sure I want to “facilitate development” if it means the same sort of rampant growth we have seen in the past 20 years. I do not believe that the timelines for development applications are unduly long. Guelph is a city where council believes that residents should be part of the development process from the earliest time-points, and I fully endorse community involvement. This often means developers sitting down with staff and residents to iron out difficulties and to reach compromise solutions that are acceptable to all. Two good examples of this approach in Ward 3 are the LaFarge development and the development at Glasgow and Waterloo. Outside of Ward 3, the development out on Downey Road is another example of residents having a strong and effective say in how their neighbourhood grows. I also believe in full environmental assessment whenever required. Cutting corners is simply short-term gain for long term pain.
I am not a fan of unbridled growth, such as Guelph has undergone for 20 years or more. In fact I am co-organising a conference for November 10th at the university, looking at this precise issue. We hope to have Dr. Peter Victor from York University speaking about his book on a no-growth scenario, as well as an excellent speaker on peak oil, one on real environmental sustainability, on the global footprint, and others – keep a lookout for posters coming soon.
However, the province is currently pushing all municipalities to accept a significant number of new residents in the next 20 years. Guelph’s Growth Management Plan will ensure that we no longer accept urban sprawl as a model of growth, but that intensification will be our model, with great public transit and nodes of neighbourhoods at appropriate points along transit routes. We will create a community of communities, with smaller house lots, and lots of diversity in housing, such as stacked townhouses, 3- 4 storey apartments, and housing above commercial centres. We are not advocating a high-rise city, just a form of housing and neighbourhood development that is common in European cities.
We also have to ensure that there are jobs for all our new residents, and the Hanlon Creek Business Park and York Road Innovation District will help us to ensure that we don’t just become a bedroom community for Toronto. The recent decision by Canadian Solar to locate in Guelph is a prime example of the type of jobs we hope to attract – high-paying environmental jobs for the future, so that our university graduates will decide to stay and settle in our great city.
As for our infrastructure, the current mass of infrastructure work that is taking place on Guelph roads is a nuisance, granted – and sometimes more than a nuisance, but it is short term. It has to be finished by March 31st of next year, and it has saved us $48 million because of funding by other levels of government. By this time next year, it will all be done and we will have much improved roads with many more bike lanes – smooth and safe for bicycle-commuting!

e) Arts & Culture
I have listed Arts and Culture as one of my priorities for the next term of council. Specifically, our thriving Arts and Culture community needs a permanent home, and I will champion that cause if I am re-elected. Guelph is a city of music, and we should be “tooting our own horn” (pardon the pun) much more, in that regard. Richard Florida has written extensively about the importance of “the culture class”, so we must nurture it more. We should become a “Destination” for tourists – if Elora can do it, so can we! I would like to see a pedestrian precinct in the downtown core, with open air cafes, points of interest and bustling unique places to shop. I have been a Hillside volunteer for more than 10 years, and I know the value of our festivals to the greater region. We must continue to support our unique and important arts and culture community.

4) Is there another issue that you’d specifically like to highlight/focus on?
My primary concern is the environment. We in the western world are living way beyond the capacity of our Planet Earth, while those in developing countries do not have enough to eat, no clean water, and, in many cases, toxic environments, thanks to pollution by big western companies. As the saying goes, we need to think globally and act locally. We need to get out of our cars, use fewer resources such as energy and water, and find ways to help our fellow citizens in poor countries. We also need to realize that the environment can’t be an afterthought to the economy. They are equally important, as are social justice issues. Every decision we make should take all three into consideration. A thriving economy cannot be allowed to cause environmental devastation or social disruption. A sound economy is one where a sustainable environment is front and centre, and where everyone has a place to live and food on the table. Please do not vote for candidates talking solely about debt and taxes, without considering anything else.

5) What’s your message for voters?
In a nutshell, PLEASE GET OUT AND VOTE! Remember that during the last election, one of the people trying for a council seat won by just a single vote! The turnout for municipal elections is notoriously low, typically less than 40 per cent, despite the fact that this is the level of government closest to the people and the one which you can most easily and effectively influence. Just think, you and you alone could have the final say on who sits at the council table in Guelph, and in how this city will look 10 years from now. Take five minutes out of your busy day on October 25th and go vote. Your children will thank you!

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