2022 City Election



1. Owen Sound Council has fewer citizen committees and task forces than most similar cities. Opportunities for input are scarce, and many residents feel their comments and complaints are not respected. What specifically would you propose to improve and strengthen citizen input?

Increasing and improving citizen engagement and input are high on my priority list. There are many ways to do this but all depend on the agreement of Council and involvement of staff.

In the immediate term, the City could increase the number of resident engagement opportunities by striking subject specific action tables on issues like climate action and housing. Having focussed topics for committees and engagement can better attract folks who have particular areas of interest. Surrounding municipalities have mobilized that type of action table to create action plans and resources. The City could also remove the caps on the number of residents on current committees. It seems strange to me that Council both laments committee vacancies and turns away members from positions with multiple applications. In addition, I believe that staff and Council need to examine the barriers to resident participation on current committees. The timing, location, and protocols around committee participation can all create barriers. For example, the provision of childcare and transportation vouchers can help folks who want to participate but could not otherwise afford or physically access or participate in the meeting. Virtual meetings require access to and familiarity with technology that is not universal. Hosting meetings over meal times in spaces that do not allow food is also problematic.

For project specific engagement, the City could take a people and places approach to gathering public feedback by sending staff out to interact with residents where they are. An example of this approach is Meaford’s recent consultation about the future of the skate park where staff set up a table at the park itself. Too often, City Hall has relied on passive feedback tools with mail in and online surveys. I believe the new online tool https://ourcity.owensound.ca/ has promise as a single place for resident feedback, however, online tools are exclusive to folks with access to and familiarity with technology. Online tools also miss the opportunity to build a sense of community, connection, and trust by gathering people physically. A combination of these processes is most equitable.

More proactive communication about City Council, upcoming agenda items, and current questions would also improve engagement. A lack of resident participation in public meetings is a symptom of the City’s inadequate communication. Community activist Dave Meslin gave a famous TEDtalk about the potential for municipalities to more effectively communicate and engage with residents. We would do well to apply the lessons laid out in that speech and his other work so that residents know about meetings, processes, and projects ahead of time rather than after the fact.

Another barrier to public participation is the lack of familiarity with the process. In the medium and long term, Owen Sound could follow in the steps of other municipalities by providing regular public education sessions. This information could be provided in City Hall 101 sessions in person, with materials on the website, and with materials prominently displayed at City Hall. Some municipalities invite school groups annually for tours and orientations of City Hall and then encourage the students to develop proposals for the city. I would love to see something similar here to encourage lifelong civic participation. In a similar thread, I would love to see Owen Sound develop a youth advisory council similar to those in other cities like Toronto.The first step to any of these processes is to elect a Council that values meaningful and active resident input.

2. Many complain that property taxes are comparatively high in Owen Sound; however, there are significant problems that could benefit from a more funding.  How do you propose to keep taxes down while addressing problems like homelessness, addictions and the desperate lack of affordable, licensed rental housing?

The tax rate in Owen Sound is an artifact of decades of decisions and the shifting economic landscape. We have inherited this level of taxation and the connected level and structure of service it supports. When it comes to managing increases in taxes I believe that we need to focus on the balance between taxes and service delivery to make sure that we are getting the most value for every dollar today and spending appropriately to reduce infrastructure and service deficits that will cost us even more in the future. We also need to advocate more energetically alongside other municipalities and organizations for more appropriate funding from other levels of government to address our pressing issues.

If we let our governance decisions focus only on taxes then we miss the point. The dollar amount on the bottom of our tax bills is the not the measure of a successful city. Taxes are a tool and are the means to the ends of an appropriate quality of life within our City.

There are needs in our community that cannot be addressed with the limited budget we have. City Hall needs to proactively identify our local needs and vision so that when funding opportunities become available from other levels of government we can apply with projects that fit both the focus of the funding and our local vision for the community we want to be.

There are also opportunities for the City to partner with local agencies to address local needs in ways that leverage City resources and spaces without requiring the City to take the lead or long term management roles. For instance, the Poverty Task Force, Canadian Mental Health Association, and YMCA have been looking at issues of housing and homelessness for years. The City could more actively engage with those groups and local experts to identify local interventions to address persistent social issues.

Finally, we could reduce the tax load on residents by lowering the amount that we subsidize for-profit developers. The RCA redevelopment alone is shifting $3.5 million in expenses from the developer to tax payers. I don’t believe that is money well spent.

3. Owen Sound is facing a housing crisis. We urgently need action to build new, affordable homes for purchase and rental, and to improve and expand rental accommodations. Will you support reviewing the current practice of waiving development fees to entice companies to build? Will you approve a landlord licencing system to give the city and tenants more power to upgrade the safety and quality of rental apartments?

Yes, I support both a review of development charge exemptions. I’m also in favour of a licensing system for both short and long-term rentals. That said, the best approaches we can develop will come from a combination of researching best practice and community consultation.

Ultimately, I believe that Owen Sound needs to create a housing action plan to get an accurate picture of our housing ecosystem, identify all of the possible tools at the city’s disposal to impact it, and assess whether the current policies and practices are in fact helping to address the community’s needs or whether different interventions need to be applied.

4. What can the City do about poverty, homelessness, and addictions and mental health problems, given that such issues are the responsibility of multiple levels of government? How can we show empathy and compassion - and find viable solutions – to help the most vulnerable residents of our city? Would you support assigning members of both Council and staff to the Poverty Task Force?

There are many individuals, organizations, and agencies working to address the issues of poverty, homelessness, and addictions and mental illness locally. The City of Owen Sound can’t be responsible for singlehandedly addressing these issues but it needs to be an active partner and offer what it can to support the folks doing the work. We can only be active partners, however, if City Council understands current needs and available services and prioritizes these issues. I think that Council and staff need to be involved with the Poverty Task Force, the Community Drug and Alcohol Strategy, and the Community Safety and Well Being Plan generally. Whether that involvement should be through strategic relationship building and the monitoring of agendas and minutes or as regular active members should be determined by the availability of time and resources. 

This is another area where making sure that Council decisions and City projects are informed by triple bottom line approaches will ensure that these social issues are prioritized. Interventions as simple as providing adequate benches, water fountains, and washrooms can improve the quality of life for everyone in Owen Sound. There are also frameworks to guide this kind of work through things like the Age Friendly Community report developed by Grey County. We need to make sure that we elect a Council that is aware of that type of tool and is willing to incorporate the knowledge into its decisions.

5. Let’s face it: the worldwide climate crisis is impacting all aspects of life; our children and future generations will pay the price. Municipalities directly experience extreme weather events including heat waves, floods, health effects and the cost of adaptation measures. Therefore, Owen Sound must work with other levels of government to reverse and adapt to climate change. What steps should the city take to reduce its carbon footprint and mitigate the impacts of climate change? Do you support citizen involvement in the development of a local Climate Action Plan, and the hiring of a climate change coordinator?

According to a recent report from the Operations Committee, the City is finally planning to develop a climate change mitigation plan by April 2023. Climate mitigation and adaptation are different. I’ve written previously about the need for a climate action plan. I believe that we need community involvement in the development and implementation of both climate change adaptation and mitigation plans. Involving residents in that way puts both the city budget and local expertise to best use.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has a five step framework for this work and several of our neighbouring municipalities (North Bruce Peninsula and West Grey as an example) have already begun this process. Owen Sound is behind in this work. In 1990 the City of Toronto identified its first climate goals. In 2005, Calgary and Edmonton became the first Canadian Municipalities to complete the previously mentioned five step framework. Owen Sound has been a laggard on this issue but we can’t afford to be any longer.

It is time to elect a Council that is ready to do the work, that recognizes that every decision the City makes can consider both climate change adaptation and mitigation, and that understands responding to the climate crisis is not a separate issue. There are practical tools to help guide this work and I believe that a triple bottom line approach to decision making as well as a focus on multi-solving will produce both the best quality of decisions and the most financially responsible decisions for the current and future councils. The climate crisis is changing everything which means that everything the City does from deciding how we manage waste, to the way we set standards for new developments, manage park land, and schedule transit can change the City’s green house gas emissions and impact on the ecosystem.

Personally, I believe that going forward every member of Council and city employee needs to understand and be fully informed on climate issues. As a community I think we need to decide whether investing resources in hiring a single person as a climate change coordinator is most effective or whether we lean on the expertise from Grey County and invest resources in thoroughly educating and training City staff instead.

6. There are far too many retail vacancies on most blocks of Owen Sound’s downtown core, and most stores are closed on Sunday. What can Council do, working with area landlords, to support social enterprises and innovative business ventures? Should subsidies or rebates for business owners be an option?

 The City of Owen Sound cannot mandate businesses open or stay in business. I also respect the right of businesses and small business owners to take days off and have weekends. Formerly, the City provided incentives to landlords with empty storefronts in the form of tax breaks. I think that we can create an environment where landlords are incentivized to rent commercial spaces on even a short term basis by implementing fees for vacant commercial properties. The City is already supporting landlords and businesses with capital upgrades. I don’t think it’s the City’s job to make business decisions or provide financial incentives for entrepreneurs.

There are other ways for the City to support businesses by making sure that our housing policy supports a robust and attainable housing ecosystem for workers, providing convenient transit for workers and shoppers, and creating inviting public spaces that folks want to visit and shop in.

7. Owen Sound has many long residential streets with 50 km/h speed limits that inadvertently encourage speeding. Should Council explore the possibility of reducing speed limits in residential areas to 40 km/h or less?

Urban planning and the design of public spaces set the stage for community connection, safety, and well being. Our current planning and design prioritizes cars and vehicles in a way that reduces public space for people and increases danger. I believe that Council should explore every possibility for increasing community connection and safety on Owen Sound’s streets from reducing speed limits in residential areas to introducing traffic calming measures and investigating the strategic implementation of one way streets. We could even explore the perennial suggestion of regularly closing 2nd Avenue East to vehicle traffic to create a pedestrian mall. Those immediate policy changes can help to address the need for greater safety but long term change will need to be the result of road design and construction. These are considerations that we could work in to the development of all new subdivisions but it requires community conversation and education to reframe streets as being for human beings, human powered transporation, and not just for cars. That shift in thinking also has public health and environmental benefits.







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