Martin Collier says he could have moved anywhere in the world with his wife Mary, but they decided to settle in Guelph for its "progressive municipal government, unique and historic downtown, multitude of sports and cultural activities, array of wellness practitioners and programs, proximity to nature and, especially, the friendly people." In 2006, Collier established Healthy Transport Consulting, a group dedicated to providing government, private sector and non-profit organizations with sustainable transportation policy, planning, research and project/event management services whose clients have included the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Metrolinx/York Region Transit, the Niagara Escarpment Commission, and Pollution Probe. Collier's other activities include co-founding the Toronto and Guelph chapters of the Centre for Active Transportation, being the first manager of Ontario Smart Growth Network, being a project manager for Transportation Options, working as an Ontario Development Officer at the Nature Conservancy of Canada and being the first manager of the ReinCARnate Vehicle Recycling Project at the Recycling Council of Ontario. And now, we wants to represent Ward 2 saying, "I am fortunate that my diverse career, civic advocacy and volunteering, along with my education and love of music, has enabled me to make a difference to the livability of cities for people and other species." Here are Collier's responses to the candidate questionnaire.
1) Why did you decide to run for city council?
I am fortunate that my diverse 30-year career, civic advocacy and volunteering, along with my education and love of music, has enabled me to make a difference to the livability of cities for people and other species. For the majority of this time, I’ve focused my efforts on transportation planning challenges with government, business, non-profits, academia and the public. I have also worked on waste management and habitat conservation.
My family, friends, colleagues and neighbours describe me as a knowledgeable, ethical, hard-working, honest and caring person who is passionate about Guelph and its future. I appreciate the city’s many good points but constantly think about new ways of building on its strong foundation – what I call “bold ideas”. On the campaign trail, I have found that citizens also have great ideas to share so, with proactive leadership, many of these ideas could be discussed, piloted and implemented.
I want Guelph to be the best it can be so I will balance environment, economy and social with current and future generation needs as I work on specific “bold idea” proposals related to citizen engagement, open government, arts/heritage, community wellbeing/health and transportation policy/governance. I will discuss these as I answer the questions below.
2) What makes your ward unique to Guelph?
Ward 2 is unique due to its friendly and skilled residents, the park system along the Speed River right up to Guelph Lake is especially amazing. Being on the northeast end of town, there has stability in terms of growth and development. Unfortunately, there are termite problems on both sides of the river and it is spreading northwards. Like other wards, there are quite disparate incomes and planning has not been done in such a way to ensure amenities are within a 5 minute walk/bike ride from homes. Zoning and incentives could change this.
3) Using a letter grade, how would you rank the performance of the current city council?
B-. Council did fairly well as Canada emerged from the economic recession: Official Plan consolidated, downtown secondary plan finalized, Wellbeing Strategy initiated, Community Energy Initiative continued and new businesses welcomed. There were missteps where financial management, public consultation, human resources and infrastructure were concerned – and too much rubber stamping of multi-million dollar road projects.
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?
Guelph is not over-taxed when you consider the services provided for the average $3,200 tax bill: police/fire (32%); transit/parking/roads (18%); public health/job assistance/housing/child care (15%); parks/recreation/culture/libraries (13%); staff/council (8%); solid waste (6%); capital projects excluding roads (6%); planning/economic development (2%). All this for under $9.00 a day is an incredible deal!!
The city can compare itself to other cities but it is a moot point since most Guelphites won’t move simply because taxes are too high – family/community connections, location and quality of life trump taxes. The problem is the way in which we are currently taxed for two major reasons:
- People leave it up to politicians (grudgingly) to decide where their tax dollars will be spent each year. This leads to trade-offs that, when taken together, don’t meet policy objectives.
- The current taxation system subsidizes behaviour that impacts our finite resources and the earth itself.
To deal with both of these issues, Guelph must transition to a user pay system for more services – as has been done with hydro and water (excluding storm water). The next services that should be taken off the tax-supported budget are solid waste and transportation. In terms of the latter, the City could decrease the overall budget by almost $50 million/year by removing transit, parking, road infrastructure and traffic enforcement from the property tax supported budget and merge them into a new Guelph Transportation Agency residing within Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc. With political oversight, transportation staff will be encouraged to be entrepreneurial and propose innovative ways of raising capital and operating funds through earmarked user pay measures (e.g. parking, tolls) and other transport taxes (e.g. vehicle registration tax, wheelage fees). This in turn will encourage modal shift which will result in congestion decreases and demand for multi-million dollar road infrastructure even as 50,000 more people are added to the population.
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?
As mentioned in question 4, Guelphites get a pretty amazing deal for property taxes paid – average of $8.95/day. However, police/fire take a 35% slice of the tax supported budget but the city’s hands are tied due to provincial standards – and few residents want to see this reduced. Shared services with the County, which are also provincially mandated, takes another 15%. While I have ideas to make police/emergency/shared services more efficient, they are best left to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario to lobby for.
After the services mentioned above are accounted for, the city has 50 cents on every tax dollar to the tax dollar to look for efficiencies. As mentioned in Question 4, I will work to move all transportation services off the tax supported budget so that a savings of almost 20% could be saved – more as the population grows. In this way, the city will be able to influence vehicular demand and reduce the need for more expensive road infrastructure. These changes would save the city money spent on hard infrastructure and increase transit revenues while decreasing congestion, emissions, sprawl impacts – all due to lowering transport demand as the city’s population grows. This would mean lower taxes for all, especially those who use sustainable modes or telework.
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.
Before deciding on new public capital projects, the city must develop a solid and transparent asset management plan in conjunction with Guelph residents. Once that is done, partnerships with business (e.g. P3s, corporate recognition) must be pursued where it makes sense. Zoning must be relaxed so that businesses of different sizes can open up shop within old and new subdivisions – as long as they are complying with provincial growth plans to intensify. It won’t be popular for me to say but if people are choosing to live where there are no amenities, they can’t hold the city responsible for their location inefficient decisions!
7) How would you propose to mend relations between the city and transit workers, and to improve the services of Guelph Transit?
First, the city must follow through quickly on the MOU that was signed to improve working conditions. Second, there must be ongoing communications so that the possibility of future strikes is averted for all time. Third, (as mentioned in Question #4), transit must be merged with roads and parking to create a new Guelph Transportation Agency within Guelph Municipal Holdings Inc.
8) What will you do to insure the best possible communication between yourself and your constituents if you’re elected to council?
Besides being available via phone, email, web and social media, I will be facilitating regular feedback through face-to-face forums. Everyone in this ward (and in the city) has knowledge, experience and stories to share. Unfortunately, many of us feel disconnected and insecure due to the increasing size and population of the city. With the help of staff and external experts (e.g. University of Guelph), I will work with citizens of all ages to bring new ideas to the community and, through the Internet and in-person forums, have them piloted and ultimately implemented.
This way we can learn from and with each other as we make Ward 2 a laboratory for innovative thinking and demonstration. In the end, we will be able to export our ideas. We will be the most politically engaged community in Ontario and eventually Canada.
9) Guelph is implementing online voting for the first time with this election, are you in favour of this development or against it?
I am in favour of online voting as long as it is secure and information about candidates is easy for voters to research. That being said, I think the date of October 7 was too early to allow voting to begin – October 20th would have sufficed. In the bigger picture, I know the city is going to internet voting in order to increase the “voter turnout”. While this is a first step, the city and councillors must help citizens become more democratic by educating them as to how the city works. This ties into my bold ideas related to citizen engagement and open government.
10) What issue, aside from any previously mentioned in this questionnaire, do you think should be a priority and why?
- Wellbeing/Health: I am proposing to work with local professionals, citizens, council and staff to implement Healthy Guelph Community Kitchens and Community Stress-Reduction Program. These programs will foster citizen health and wellness as they will have significant benefits to our city economically, culturally and socially. Healthy citizens are engaged, contributing citizens.
- Arts/Culture: Guelph’s natural and architectural beauty is unique and, for its size, its arts scene is unsurpassed. As a result, these attributes should be promoted more within the city and, especially, to Canadians and tourists from outside Guelph.
See http://www.martincollier.ca/bold-ideas.html for further information about the above two issues and much more on transportation as well.
11) How can local government be a force for good in the lives of the people of Guelph?
Local government is the government that provides the services that are most relevant to people’s lives (see Question 4 first paragraph). Yet the province and federal government takes 91% of the taxes paid by Guelphites. New revenue tools must be provided to local government who then must have the leadership to make use of them – especially those that influence demand in such a way that a sustainable city and region is created. At the same time, the city must see its citizens as partners in making life good for everyone – which can be done through open government. In the end, it is a partnership between residents, business, non-profits, academia and government that will make Guelph the best it can be.
12) Where can voters get more information about you and your campaign?