It was night two of the debates and the combatants were from Ward 3. The discussion, for the most part, was civil with the exception of one exchange, but what was particularly of note was the change in discussion of priorities and ideas amongst the Ward 3 representatives and the ones from Ward 4 the previous night. The group from right to left consisted of Maggie Laidlaw, Craig Chamberlain, Missy Tolton, Dimitrios “Jim” Galatianos, June Hofland and Mark Enchin.
So let’s begin. Laidlaw kicked things off with her opening statements saying that it’s an exciting time to be a Guelph resident as a lot of the ground work laid in the last four years will start coming to fruition in the next four. Chamberlain said that it’s time to get back to basics and that council’s been spending too much, too fast, to meet the needs of special interests. Tolton said that she’ll bring passion, accountability and the public voice to council, while Galatianos immediately swung out against the proposed garbage bin system.
Like the night before, the debate started off with a question to the candidates about what they thought the important issues were for their ward, and unlike the night before only two said it was taxes. Galatianos was so emphatic that he said his three priorities were “taxes, taxes and taxes,” adding that Guelph is not friendly to business, and that we need to reduce monthly bus rates so that lower income people can access downtown. Enchin also cited taxes and adding that the revitalization of Willow West Mall and more assistance for Guelph’s poor were other issues.
Interestingly, Willow West Mall got name checked a couple of times. Tolton said that people she had been talking to while going door-to-door were “outraged” by that fact that a store with a variety of affordable goods (Zellers) is being replaced by a furniture store (Leon’s). Laidlaw considered the mall, and the development of the Lafarge site a priority, however not before affordable housing and improvements in the downtown.
On the question of how to encourage existing businesses and attract new businesses, Galatianos had an interesting approach saying that improvement to transit is needed, along with the reduction of long term debt and bringing the city’s credit rating up to AAA. Enchin employed the traditional government should get out of the way of business because business knows what it’s doing motif, and said that Cambridge is a good example of how to do things. Chamberlain said that we have to compete globally for business and that we need to support local innovation though agri-food and green tech.
Next were issues concerning seniors. Galatianos said that that’s why he’s focusing on transit issues, to keep seniors mobile and making sure that it’s harder for them to develop a sense of isolation. Hofland mentioned taxes and how seniors are concerned about losing their homes because of a high tax rate, while Enchin talked about building more community centres. Laidlaw, Chamberlain and Tolton all talked about infrastructure, making safer sidewalks, creating safe park spaces and walkable communities to help with seniors’ mobility.
A little bit later there was a more unusual question apart from the usual queries about taxes and business, how can we stop the city’s flower beds from being taken over by weeds? The popular consensus was more volunteers and youth involvement was the way to go. As well Galatianos offered that citizens should be better informed about what plants are able to grow best in the city. Laidlaw and Hofland both discussed the idea of expanding the city’s community garden programs.
Next, it was back to business with how the candidates would propose to support and fund downtown revitalization. Laidlaw and Tolton both discussed partnerships, with Laidlaw specifically cited the Downtown Board and the Guelph Chamber of Commerce. Chamberlain said that he believed a vibrant downtown was “essential”, but it has to be done within the operating budget. Galatianos once again hit on transit saying that it was “key” and that they can do what they want downtown, but it doesn’t matter if no one’s able to get there. Many of the candidates stated their hope that the new location of the civic museum in the old Loretto Convent will be good initial step to bring more people, and tourism money, downtown.
This is where things started to get a little spicy with dissension in the ranks about the issue of water and water safety. Galatianos argued that the quality of water is dropping, the wells are not functioning as well as they could be and that we’re building and creating more demand on the system, and the City has done nothing about it. This got on Laidlaw’s nerves and when her turn came around and asked, “How anyone can say we’ve done nothing in the last 20 years? I don’t think they live in Guelph.” Laidlaw then listed off a number of accomplishments about how the city was secured its water resources. Galatianos used part of his response in the next section to rebut Laidlaw, but moderator Lloyd Longfield wouldn’t let it carry on from there.
The next question was a contentious one also: the matter of the relationship between the city and the county. Hofland said that as council they were trying to protect tax dollars and ensure social services are delivered in the most effective way possible. Hofland’s fellow incumbent agreed saying that Guelph hasn’t seen any transparency from the county, and if they need proof, they can see the Smelly Welly website. Enchin spoke from the outsider’s perspective saying “I understand that there’s not a lot of trust and people want accountability. […] I’ve spoken to some of the township people, and it’s not a healthy situation. We need new players.” Chamberlain, meanwhile, said that the current council’s been creating villains with the county and is just “finding someone to blame for the misappropriation of budget.”
Next, a question that “came from several coffee shops discussions.” The question was which program would you cut to help with the city’s budget issues? Galatianos was quick to he’d cut the garbage bin program. Hofland, in an appreciated bit of honesty, said that she’s not in favour of service cuts again after seeing what happened transit this past summer. Enchin said that he’d look to generating new sources of revenue. Laidlaw pointed out that of 82 municipalities in Ontario paying for the same services per capita, Guelph has the lowest taxes. Chamberlain wasn’t impressed saying that just because there was “room to grow” with taxes doesn’t mean we have to fill it.