Cathy Downer was first elected to city council by Ward 5 in 1994, and served for four terms working on committees and boards like including Planning, Works and Environment, Heritage Guelph, Family and Children’s Services, Loretto Convent Task Force and Guelph Non-Profit Housing. She was also chair of the City Hall/Courthouse Redevelopment Committee. Since leaving council in 2006 she's been on the Boards of the Guelph Community Health Centre and the Guelph Youth Music Centre, and was Elections Ontario Returning Officer for Guelph from January 2011 till December 2013. Downer has also served as a volunteer mediator with Community Justice Initiatives and the John Howard Society, and has received her Advanced Mediation and Conflict Management Certification from the University of Waterloo-Conrad Grebel Peace and Conflict Studies. She also holds a Chartered Mediator designation from the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario/Canada and currently works in private practice as a mediator. Finally, Downer was awarded with a Guelph YM-YWCA Women of Distinction Award in Public Service in 2007. And now she's back! Ready to rejoin council and answering the questions in the candidate questionnaire.
1) Why did you decide to run for city council?
Grassroots community work is what originally inspired me to become involved in politics and it is what brings me back to run for City Council this time. One of my greatest passions while being on Council was working directly with citizens, neighbourhood groups and local organizations.
I have the experience and dedication to be an effective voice on Council while being accessible and connected to those I am elected to serve. I am passionate about my role as a community leader and committed to making a difference for tomorrow. I think it is every Councillor’s job to make informed decisions that preserve the balance between today’s realities and our vision of tomorrow. That means taking care of our parks, our buildings, our community facilities but still having a vision of what we want this community to be in the future.
Working together, we can enhance our quality of life and ensure Guelph continues to be a great place to live, work and play for generations to come.
2) What makes your ward unique to Guelph?
Ward 5 is made up of many unique neighbourhoods and communities including the University, Village by the Arboretum and the Stone Road Commercial District. We have many great parks and natural areas as well. The University adds a great energy to Ward 5 with young people active in the surrounding neighbourhoods and faculty that often bring their expertise to many public engagement processes. The University also brings challenges in the form of rental properties with irresponsible landlords and neighbourhood destabilization where an imbalance is sometimes created between rental and ownership houses.. There are many City/University collaborative programs such as the University’s Right Foot Forward and the City’s proactive enforcement which are dealing with these issues. We have a few well established neighbourhoods groups and others who are just starting out. Ward 5 is home to the beautiful Royal City Park and Speed River. The recently approved Brooklyn and College Hill Heritage Conservation District is the first in Guelph.
So much to be proud of in Ward 5!
3) Using a letter grade, how would you rank the performance of the current city council? Explain.
B. I believe the City is heading in the right direction in many areas. Of course there is room for improvement and areas that need renewed focus.
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?
The BMA Municipal Study which is considered the gold standard of municipal comparison put Guelph in the mid range for tax rate. We are the 4th range. The facts are simply the facts. I really think people are often talking about budget priorities when they complain about taxes. People on fixed or low incomes struggle to stay in their homes and municipal councils must always be aware of the impact tax increases have on household budgets.
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?
No, tax increases have been decreasing along with the City’s debt levels.
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.
I believe the South End needs a new recreation centre that includes services for seniors.
The number of seniors living in our community is increasing rapidly and we have long outgrown the Evergreen Centre. Also, the people in the south end need community and recreational space. However, this should not be at the expense of the Centennial Pool and Rink which was raised at one public meeting.
Of course, we have long outgrown our library and I am hopeful about the partnerships forming around the Baker Street District which would include a new library.
7) How would you propose to mend relations between the city and transit workers, and to improve the services of Guelph Transit?
Lockouts and strikes are no win situations. Relationships are damaged and take a long time to mend. I am a mediator so I think continued reaching out to communicate and ensure we are listening to their concerns will be important to rebuilding trust. This takes time and the efforts of everyone. We must always be willing to express our appreciation for the service our transit drivers provide - often in difficult weather conditions.
8) What will you do to insure the best possible communication between yourself and your constituents if you’re elected to council?
How does a Councillor understand and stay connected to the Community they represent? It is really quite simple...by being engaged, open and available. It is about newsletters, holding town hall meetings- in the community and on the University of Guelph campus - not just to inform but to listen. It is about actively reaching out and contacting people in communities impacted by any particular decision to ask for their views on the issue.
It is about regularly meeting with neighbourhood groups, student associations, business leaders and local organizations in order to stay current on issues affecting the day to day lives of people as they live, play and work in our city. Being connected to my community has been and continues to be a real pleasure in my life.
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 have my reservations but I am willing to have an open mind. I truly hope it increases voter participation but reviews done by Elections Ontario shows no significant increase using alternative technology. I have been the Returning Officer for Guelph for Elections Ontario. They undertook an extensive review of alternative technologies in 2013 and decided to not move forward until their complete set of criteria which included security and capacity could be satisfied. The report can be found at elections.on.ca under ‘Publications’.
I am happy about other new voting initiatives like voting at any advance poll in the Ctiy and any poll location in your ward on voting day. I do think that will help increase turnout.
10) What issue, aside from any previously mentioned in this questionnaire, do you think should be a priority and why?
I have 3 priorities
Economic Development – we need to ensure job growth keeps up with population growth and position Guelph as premier business investment location. I am committed to advocating for initiatives to maintain and attract new businesses. I believe exceptional customer service is an essential ingredient to competiveness. .
Stewardship – maintenance of our facilities, parks, natural areas and infrastructure should be a high priority. I am committed to informed budget prioritizing which ensures we maintain our assets while still having a vison of what we want this community to be in the future.
Caring Community- there are many among us who are struggling and having difficulty accessing affordable housing, transportation and healthy food. I am committed to advocating with organizations like the Neighbourhood Support Coalition to ensure ALL families and individuals are supported and have a sense of belonging in our community.
11) How can local government be a force for good in the lives of the people of Guelph?
I think we are seeing government as a ‘force for good’ quite actively demonstrated here in Guelph. The Neighbourhood Support Coalition is one great example. This was started by the City but now they have become their own entity but are still supported by the City. As I previously stated, there are many struggling in our community and many government funded organizations are working hard to make sure everyone is supported.
It is difficult to know where to stop when you see how our quality of life is impacted by local government with services provided like libraries, sidewalk clearing, parks, garbage collection, school patrols, recreational facilities and the list goes on. Community Benefit Grants are dispersed every year to local charities. We are fortunate to have been recognized as one of the most caring communities in Canada.
12) Where can voters get more information about you and your campaign?