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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.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Maggie Laidlaw (Ward 3) - Candidate Questionnaire

If re-elected, Maggie Laidlaw will be the longest serving member of city council, a political career that she started 20 years go when she was first elected school trustee. She was then elected to council for the first time in 2000, the start of an auspicious and occasionally controversial tenure around the horseshoe that has, regardless, seen her re-elected three time by now. Laidlaw was born in Scotland, but her family has deep roots in Guelph. The grandparents of her husband David (who was my high school art teacher by the way) owned a grocery store on Ontario Street for years; the future Mr. and Mrs.  Laidlaw met while taking part in a cross-Canada bicycle tour to promote the Olympics in Montreal. Settling in Guelph, the couple raise their two children here in the Royal City where Laidlaw still works as the Director of Scientific Affairs at Nutrasouce Diagnostics Inc., a private sector contract research organisation. Although she plans on retiring from her day job in the next couple of years, she remains dedicated to her work on council, and to help prove it she now asnwers the Guelph Politico Candidate Questionnaire.

1) Why did you decide to run for city council?
I am passionate about Guelph, and really love representing my ward as a City Councillor. For the past four years, council has been laying the groundwork, both literally and figuratively, for many innovative projects on the horizon, and I would like to be there to continue to offer my support for these projects. I also feel that my strong support for environmental issues and social justice are very useful around the council horseshoe.

2) What makes your ward unique to Guelph?
Ward 3 has a broad mix of people from all socio-economic backgrounds, from the very rich to the very poor. We also have what is probably the largest mix of ethnic backgrounds in the city, thanks to our vibrant Willow West neighbourhood. We have a mixture of residential, commercial and industrial buildings, such that many people who live in ward 3 also work in Ward 3, and although we do not have a recreation facility per se, we are not far away from the West End Recreation Centre or even the Victor Davis Centre. We certainly have a variety of shopping facilities, including part of our wonderful downtown, and, of course, any description of Ward 3 would not be complete without mentioning our parks, particularly one of the very best parks in Guelph, Exhibition Park!

3) Using a letter grade, how would you rank the performance of the current city council? Explain.
I would give council an A ranking. If Urbacon was not on the books, I would have given council an AA+, just like Standard and Poors’ AA+ financial rating. I might even have given us a triple ‘A’ rating, as I have done in my brochure, thanks to the many Accolades, Awards and Achievements of the past four years. Howeverm Urbacon did happen, and no-one, least of all council is pleased about how that issue transpired.

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?
As someone with a scientific background, who is used to dealing with graphs, charts, etc., I thoroughly examined the BMI assessment and report on cities in Ontario, the latest being 2013. The Cam Guthrie cabal that includes Craig Chamberlain and Jason Thorne would have you believe that Guelph is one of the highest-taxed municipalities in Ontario. This is completely false, but it is being repeated again and again in the hope that city residents will come to believe it. As someone with a scientific background, who is used to dealing with graphs, charts, etc., I thoroughly examined the BMI assessment and report on cities in Ontario, the latest being 2013. Below is a table of Guelph’s tax rates since 2004, plus a graphical representation of those tax rates and 3 graphs of taxes in Guelph compared with other Ontario cities, which I produced directly from the BMI tables:

If you look at the first three years, from 2004 to 2006, this is when a majority of council were “tax-cutting” right-wing conservative types, yet the cumulative tax rate was 16.74%, an average of 5.58%/year. For the four years from 2006 until 2010, the cumulative tax rate for Mayor Karen Farbridge and her supposed “tax-and-spend” council colleagues was 16.20%, less than for the three previous years, and the average was 4.05%/year. For the most recent three years, the cumulative tax rate was 10.78%, with an average of 2.695%. Figuratively, here is a visual representation:

As can be seen from the graph, since the start of Mayor Farbridge’s most recent terms of council, tax rates have been going DOWN, and becoming closer to the Consumer Price Index CPI). If the current trend of falling increases continues, they will be at or below the rate of inflation in two years. In effect, the right-wing council majority of the 2003-2006 term delivered less and cost more in terms of tax increases during their 3 years than the so-called “tax-and-spend” councils have in the following 8 years. For a comparison of Guelph’s tax rates relative to our comparators (cities of >100,000 people), see the three following graphs:

The yellow bars are considered “low-tax-range” cities, the blue are the “mid-tax-range” cities and the green bars are the “high-tax-range” cities. The red bar is the overall average and Guelph is deep purple; note that Guelph is less than the average, and in the mid-range, alongside its neighbouring cities Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo. The overblown and deceitful information about Guelph being one of the highest-taxed cities in Ontario is simply nonsense.

In this figure, Guelph is just below the average, and in the mid-range, along with our neighbours Cambridge and Kitchener. Waterloo is actually in the high range for this category.

For multi-residential housing, Guelph is approximately the same as the average, but actually below our three neighbouring municipalities.
Municipal taxes are only 7% of overall taxes, and provide more than 200 of the day-to-day services residents require - in fact many more than do other levels of government. 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? The low-tax mantra of the right-wing conservatives has shown time and again that it just does not work. Look at what has been happening economically since this low-tax dogma became mainstream; the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is disappearing! Lowering taxes just means fewer services, and service cuts disadvantage the poor more than any other group.

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, I do not. If we had a spending problem, Standard and Poors would not have given us an AA+ rating with a stable outlook this year, nor would they have stated that the ratings reflect “Guelph’s very strong economic fundamentals, budgetary flexibility, exceptional liquidity position and low debt burden.”

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 infrastructure deficit of every municipality n Canada is huge; collectively, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has summed the total infrastructure debt at $123 billion, and that was in 2007 – it is much worse now. Obviously, municipalities cannot deal with this alone; there must be partnerships with the provincial and federal governments.
Among other service needs, I would include the redevelopment of the Baker Street Parking lot, including a much-needed main public library, extension of Conestoga College, downtown Y and residential building. I would also include a South End Recreation Centre. Obviously the East side of Guelph is completely underserviced in terms of shopping, and the city can certainly encourage a grocery store to go there, but we cannot compel a private company to build on a specific location.

7) How would you proposed to mend relations between the city and transit workers, and to improve the services of Guelph Transit?
We are already moving in that direction. However, I would like to see more front-line input for improvement suggestions; they are the ones who can best tell us where the problems lie, and we should respect their opinions.
Our main transit problem is that we are on the cusp of moving from a medium-sized city, in which a spoke and hub transit system was sufficient, to a large city that requires several transit terminals, and we have already begun that transition, but it will take time, effort and cooperation before it is fully implemented.

8) What will you do to insure the best possible communication between yourself and your constituents if you’re elected to council?
June Hofland and I have held several town hall meetings, but the only one that was well-attended was the one related to the cell tower near Alma Street issue. I do respond in a timely manner to calls and emails, but I have been following Councillor Findlay’s blog, and believe that two-way communication by that means would be helpful. The city is fully committed to a better communications system, including hardware and software, and that will be helpful, but we must also realise that not everyone can afford or understand the new communication tools and software, so we must offer a variety of means of communication in the future.

9) Guelph is implementing online voting for the first time with this election, are you in favour of this development or against it? Explain.
Given that a) Guelph is the heart of the robocalls scandal; b) that Cam Guthrie was seen as a close political associate of convicted robocaller Michael Sona; 3) that there have some pretty nefarious “goings- on” during this campaign, such as both my and councillor Holfland’s website urls being purchased by someone else, several websites being hijacked by right-wing candidates, supporters who type in my name being directed to Craig Chamberlain’s nasty website, robocalls with misinformation about me and June Hofland from Craig Chamberlain, and on and on, I now have much less faith in the online voting system than I had when it was first discussed at council. We’ll see how it goes, but I admit that I am skeptical.

10) What issue, aside from any previously mentioned in this questionnaire, do you think should be a priority and why?
Affordable housing, and its closely related issue, poverty, must be addressed more fully during this term of council, and we must continue to involve and get the support of other levels of government – we simply cannot do it all.
Pertaining to my previous response, I think that the Municipal Act should have more teeth to allow for the full prosecution of illegal activity during election campaigns and right on through council terms. If we look at the slap on the wrist elected representatives have received for obvious conflicts of interest, for illegal election activity, for blatant fraud, for misuse of funds, etc., it is clear that there is no real deterrent to this type of activity. We live in a democracy that is slowly being eroded and taken over by big money, just as it is in the U.S. We have to nip this trend in the bud while we still can.

11) How can local government be a force for good in the lives of the people of Guelph?
We already are! As I mentioned previously, municipal taxation makes up only 7-8% of overall taxation for the average working person, yet we provide more than 200 services – services that everyone requires each and every day – to our residents. We must also be good examples to our residents in everything we do.

12) Where can voters get more information about you and your campaign?
Phone number is 519-837-1732
I am happy to talk about the issues that matter to our residents (I refuse to use the term “taxpayers”; we are much more than merely taxpayers!), to answer questions, to offer advice, to help whenever I can!

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