Ward 6 is only one of two wards in the city of Guelph where both incumbents are running for re-election, and Mark MacKinnon hopes that there's room for an upset in his backyard. MacKinnon has a diverse business interest, he owns the Guelph-based board game publisher Dyskami, and he's a real estate broker with Peak Precision Realty and mortgage broker with Mortgage Alliance – Bildwell Financial. As for public service, he's been a member of the Upper Grand District School Board’s Parent Involvement Committee (PIC), member and former playground committee chair of Westminster Wood Pubic School’s Parent Council, board member of the Westminster Woods Mutual Use Committee (MUC), Wellington Common Element Condominium Corporation (WCEC) 155 board president (and former WCEC 112 board president), board member Guelph Spoken Word and Creative Director of Guelph’s $10,000 Ontario International Poetry Slam competition festival. MacKinnon's made his home in Ward 6 for the last decade with his wife Karen and his two sons.
1) Why did you decide to run for city council?
When asked the question concerning why I am running to be your Ward 6 Guelph councillor, I instinctively want to give the easy answers: “I want to give back to my community” or “I want to help make Guelph a better place”. While both those explanations are undoubtedly true, the heart of the answer is much simpler. I am running to be your councillor because I believe that I can serve the public interest of Guelph as a whole, and Ward 6 residents in particular, better than the alternative options.
My straightforward statement reflects confidence in the skills, perspectives, and passion that I can bring to council. If I honestly believed that Guelph would be better served by other candidates, whether incumbent councillors or new entrants, I would not be running to represent Ward 6 because I am primarily concerned with what is best for Guelph.
Residents demand and deserve excellence in city governance and I am ready to meet and exceed those expectations. The City of Guelph is a non-profit entity that exists to embetter the lives of all its residents by providing both vital and desirable services on a daily basis. It is a huge corporation and needs to be managed like a business. With gross expenditures approaching a half-billion dollars annually, the city must be guided by progressive and transparent decisions based on facts, logic, and rationality and balanced by the unique human perspectives that make Guelph such an exceptional place to live. Anything less is a disservice to its residents.
I am running for a Ward 6 seat on council because the oversight of city operations has room for improvement. I envision serving with a council that takes a hard look at important issues by weighing both the financial and social pros and cons, and ultimately making a decision that reflect the needs and desires of the city. My extensive work and volunteer experience (CEO and entrepreneur, treasurer of an international non-profit, member of various local boards and councils, Creative Director of an international poetry festival, and more — see my website at www.ward6guelph.ca for a detailed list) has helped me develop the skills necessary to best contribute to Guelph’s bright future. The sustainable and progressive growth of a city is directly tied to its economic viability and quality of life for its residence.
Furthermore, Ward 6 in particular needs stronger proactive engagement with its residents because an informed electorate is the foundation of a successful democracy. For too long, the voices of Ward 6 have been underrepresented, lacking accessible and regular communication between Guelph council and its south end citizens. I promise to change that. By maintaining a website with up-to-date news and information that matters to Ward 6, as well as an interactive social media presence, I will continue to be easy to reach and ready to listen.
I am running to be your Ward 6 councillor because good governance matters to me ... and I know it matters to you too.
2) What makes your ward unique to Guelph?
I don’t believe any ward in Guelph is unique since they all function together to form a single city. A resident on Clair Road is no different than a resident on Mary Street or Imperial Road or Starwood Drive. As the youngest ward with some of the most recent residential developments and business hubs, Ward 6 is facing growth issues relating to traffic management and recreation facilities ... but all wards have faced similar issues in the past or will face them in the future.
3) Using a letter grade, how would you rank the performance of the current city council? Explain.
As a whole, council functioned adequately well during the previous council term. Few disasters (the Urbacon fiasco is directly related to a previous council, on which some current councillors served) but few highlights either. C+ or B- perhaps. Anything less than an A+ performance is unacceptable, though, since accepting less than excellence leads directly to government mediocrity. The previous council was very polarised, too often forming into the familiar 7-5 voting split on many issues.
Additionally, council’s policy making and development priorities seemed too often to preserve traditional ways of thinking instead of embracing logical and rational decisions with a strong business case.
Ward 6 councillors in particular deserve a failing F grade for their complete lack of proactive engagement with residents over the past four years. For too long, the voices of Ward 6 residents have been underrepresented and ignored. Advocacy for Ward 6 issues and a powerful policy foundation are derived directly from continual community engagement. Regular townhall meetings, a dedicated Ward 6 news website, and a strong social media engagement should not be optional for an elected councillor.
4) Some people say that Guelph is over-taxed, others believe that our taxes are inline with a community our size; where do you stand on taxation in Guelph?
Studies show that the taxes Guelph residents pay falls within the average of what residents in other single-tier municipalities pay; in that regard, Guelph homeowners pay an average amount of tax. The “over-taxed” perception may not come not from the actual dollar value, though, but rather what residents see they receive for those payments. When council directs money to questionable development priorities and homeowners see money wasted on unnecessary projects, residents do indeed feel over-taxed.
5) Do you believe that Guelph has a spending problem? If yes, then please cite specific examples of areas and/or programs that you would cut to save money?
Rather than a spending problem, Guelph has a priority problem. The city’s priority must be providing core services (such as social services, trash collection, transit, snow plowing, recreation and emergency services, etc.), creating welcoming development policies that encourage private businesses to grow and thrive, and maintaining the city’s infrastructure. Rather than ensure that stormwater management and infrastructure upgrades are adequately funded, for example, Guelph is focusing on changing streetscapes and engaging in fruitless legal challenges. Council requires strong leadership to align the city’s priorities with its needs.
6) What’s the biggest priority for Guelph in terms of services needed? This could be something that’s provided by the government, ie: a library or rec centre, or it could be a commercial need, ie: a new grocery store in the east end.
The largest service development needed in Guelph is a south end rec centre. This isn’t a Ward 6 issue as some may perceive, but a Guelph-wide issue relating to inadequate recreation facilities in a rapidly growing city. Also vital to the entire city is providing adequate funding to handle Guelph’s ageing infrastructure and stormwater management. This service is a core function that can no longer be minimised.
7) How would you propose to mend relations between the city and transit workers, and to improve the services of Guelph Transit?
Transit workers need to feel engaged, valued, and respected. The city has failed in that regard and both sides have a long way to go to mend relations. The best way to start this process is by listening. Many people I know work in public sector jobs and every one of them knows that no one can identify workplace problems and inefficiencies more effectively than the front-line workers. Transit workers want to make Guelph Transit better and they likely have some amazing out-of-the-box ideas to make this happen -- the city just has to listen and transit can be improved.
8) What will you do to insure the best possible communication between yourself and your constituents if you’re elected to council?
Current communication between council and Ward 6 residents is inadequate at best, or a unmitigated disaster at worst. A councillor cannot claim to hear the concerns of its constituents or advocate for their issues without continual two-way communication.
Unlike the current councillors, I will proactively engage our community regularly so they will have a voice and will be better informed about city issues that affect their daily lives. This includes holding townhall meetings twice a year, maintaining an up-to-date Ward 6 news website, being readily accessible and responsive through social media like Twitter and Facebook (as well as by phone at 519-829-5137), and responding to emails promptly. Engagement with Ward 6 residents needs to happen continuously throughout the year, every year ... not just when there’s an election underway.
9) Guelph is implementing online voting for the first time with this election, are you in favour of this development or against it? Explain.
I believe in the sanctity of a vote. I don’t believe council should be concerned with merely increasing voter turnout as has often been said, but rather increasing the number of informed voters -- even if voter turnout remains low. The right to vote securely and safely is a precious thing and policies that make it easier to engage in the voting process is a positive change.
All that said, I do not support on-line voting. The possible threat to voter sanctity and security, as well as the potential of voter inducement in the home environment, weights more heavily than the access benefits on-line voting provides. A vote is simply too important to place at risk outside the controlled environment of the ballot box. I think making voting easier can be achieved through increased advanced voting times that accommodates the varying schedules of Guelph residents without putting vote security at risk.
I realise of course that I am in the minority on this issue. On-line voting is likely here to stay and I believe the majority of Guelph residents welcome the opportunity of choice to vote from home. Nevertheless, I do not personally support it and will be proudly casting my paper ballot at the voting booth on October 27th.
10) What issue, aside from any previously mentioned in this questionnaire, do you think should be a priority and why?
Actively pursuing more public-private partnerships to help offset development costs of capital projects is a great way to reduce the tax burden on residents. Additionally, as councillor, I will take an active interest in the structured management of traffic issues in the City of Guelph as a whole, and Ward 6 specifically. This is particularly vital during planned construction periods to avoid city-wide issues. Smooth traffic flow along the city’s arterial roads is important to everyone and failure to adequately manage signalling, traffic movement, and bicycle lanes with minimal frustration is unacceptable.
11) How can local government be a force for good in the lives of the people of Guelph?
City Hall must be open for business. This means both reducing barriers to private development that wants to come to and grow within Guelph and establishing progressive and compassionate services that will enrich the lives of residents. Our municipal government can play a vital role in fostering a safe and nurturing city for families over many decades, but it can only do so effectively if it manages its fiscal realities and responsibilities today.
12) Where can voters get more information about you and your campaign?