Karolyne Pickett (Ward 1) – Candidate Questionnaire

Karolyne Pickett ran for Ward 1 in 2010, and she’s back again for 2014.

It could be argued that politics is in her blood, as she was born in the nation’s capital, and is proudly bilingual. She studied biology at the University of Ottawa, and later obtained a Master’s Degree in ecology from the University of Toronto before going to work at the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. But later she moved to Guelph to work for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, where she analyzed projects such as new subdivisions, bridge repairs and wind turbine installations for impacts on species at risk, and developed mitigation measures to protect their habitat.

When Pickett leaves work, the environment is still on her mind as she sits on the Board of Directors for the local not-for-profit organization Pollination Guelph, whose most well known project is the pollinator garden on the Eastview landfill. And on top of it all, she gave birth to a son just last December. It seems like she’s got more than enough on her plate already, but she really wants to be a Ward 1 councillor, and she took the time to answer the Guelph Politico Candidate Questionnaire.

1) Why did you decide to run for city council?

I am standing for Council because I want Ward 1 to have an inclusive, proactive councillor.

I think that residents should have the opportunity to provide meaningful input on proposals right from the start. Consulting constituents is not simply a box to be ticked off on a to-do list. I think it’s a councillor’s job to seek residents’ opinions proactively, not just field complaints. How can councillors represent their constituents unless they ask for their ideas on an on-going basis? As councillor I will ask my constituents about their views before I make a decision. I’ve already started to do just that. Residents I’ve talked to are forthcoming with their concerns and suggestions; they deserve a councillor that will make the effort to ask.

I’m standing for Council because I believe I have the knowledge and skills to be competent at the job.

I have ten years of experience working in the public service, so I understand how government works. I understand the difference between the role of public servants and politicians. I have five years of experience working with legislation that municipal councillors ought to be fully familiar with in order to make intelligent decisions. I have the necessary knowledge to analyze planning and zoning issues faced by the City in a smart and informed manner. I have experience synthesizing the social, financial and environmental considerations that factor into political decision-making.

2) What makes your ward unique to Guelph?

It is the most diverse ward in Guelph. It has distinct neighbourhoods each with a strong sense of identity. St. Patrick’s Ward, by the river, is a funky neighbourhood that still retains elements of its industrial past. St. Georges Park, on the hilltop overlooking downtown, has beautiful mature trees and an outdoor community skating rink.

North of Elizabeth between Stevenson and Victoria, we come upon the “old Italian neighbourhood” with its characteristic bungalow architecture. The East End is the new, fast-growing neighbourhood of Ward 1, filled with young families. Finally the York lands, where the old penitentiary sits, is currently mostly green space but it is slated for development under the recently approved secondary plan. There will be tremendous growth in Ward 1 in the coming years due to the current proposal to add 9000 residents in the York lands.

3) Using a letter grade, how would you rank the performance of the current city council? Explain.

C. Despite demanding action for years, the top Ward 1 issues are still unaddressed: the East End is not a walkable neighbourhood, and the Imico brownfield in the Ward is still idle. Bus ridership is down compared to 4 years ago. Property taxes have been rising beyond the rate of inflation. Why am I not giving out a worse grade? We have more cycle lanes, residential development happening downtown, and a Community Energy Initiative.

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?

I’m a proponent of sustainability. Financially, this means matching the rate of tax increase to the rate of inflation. I want us to achieve this by Budget 2018. Over the last four years, the rate of tax increase has been on average 1% above the rate of inflation, so it is an achievable goal. Concurrently, I want to increase the City’s other revenue streams to maintain the programs that we enjoy. Examples might include increasing rec centre user fees for non-residents, renting out roof space on city buildings to solar energy providers, and providing ad space in bus shelters.

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?

Yes. The main area where taxpayer money has been wasted is in litigation. Around the time of the 2010 municipal elections, the City was engaged in two lawsuits -one with the County of Wellington and one with the Canada Revenue Agency- and lost on both counts. This time around, we are all too aware of the litigation stemming from the Urbacon contract termination, which will cost us over $8 million. We must stop engaging in reckless litigation.

Secondly, the City needs to better plan road repairs and upgrades. All through Ward 1, I have heard residents give countless examples of streets being torn up two or three times in a row in the span of a few weeks or months. I have seen it myself on Victoria Road. Let’s take the time to properly plan and coordinate infrastructure repairs so that we do it well, and we do it once.

Finally, we need to cool off on spending on the downtown. For it to thrive, the downtown needs one thing: increased foot traffic. Council needs to keep this one goal in mind whenever a new downtown initiative is put forward. Beautifying store facades will not make or break the downtown. Ease of getting there will.

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.

Shops and businesses within walking distance of residential neighbourhoods is the biggest priority for Ward 1. Many streets are also prone to speeding, so I will advocate for traffic calming measures, crosswalks, and traffic lights to create safer streets. A bus system with direct routes and increased service during peak-time, evenings and Sundays is a big need, especially for seniors, young adults and low-income families. On that topic, we need to integrate affordable housing units within regular residential development projects.

Although Ward 1 residents haven’t expressed much desire for new capital projects, many have told me that the lack of parking continues to be a disincentive for going downtown, so I am prepared to support the construction of a parkade. Despite paid parking’s unpopularity, I support a user-pay model to avoid property tax increases. Through consultation we can determine a rate that won’t create a new disincentive for visiting the downtown.

7) How would you propose to mend relations between the city and transit workers, and to improve the services of Guelph Transit?

The first thing to do is for us to have meaningful consultation with bus drivers on how to improve our City’s transit system. I’m convinced that the number one reason why the 2011 changes to the bus system failed is because drivers were not adequately consulted in the preparation of the consulting firm’s report. By having meaningful consultation with drivers, we will show that we truly value their opinions, which is the first step in mending any relationship. It will simultaneously yield concrete steps on how to improve the bus service because drivers know first hand what needs to be changed.

I also want to actively consult the ridership. Despite claims to the contrary, this was not done four years ago. In fact, during a meeting with transit managers I could hear the thump of my own suggestions falling on deaf ears (I lead a petition and garnered over 100 signatures against removing service along Victoria Road south of Eastview). Posting an ad in a newspaper about a meeting is not meaningful consultation: you have to go out of your way to ask for people’s views. No wonder ridership has gone down.

I want us to try new ideas: if Guelph is too small to fill big buses all day long, then let’s join dozens of countries out there and have smaller vehicles so that we can afford to run buses more often.

8) What will you do to insure the best possible communication between yourself and your constituents if you’re elected to council?

I started building my Ward 1 email network in 2010 and will continue to do so. I will contact my constituents on a monthly basis to report back on how I voted and why at each Council meeting, and to seek input on matters that will be coming before Council at future meetings. I will continue to go door-to-door during the entire duration of my mandate. My ultimate goal is for every Ward 1 household to be part of my network.

9) Guelph is implementing online voting for the first time with this election, are you in favour of this development or against it? Explain.

Sure, I’m in favour of keeping up with the times! Of course, I share the concerns of my fellow voters, such as encountering technical difficulties, and more seriously, the risk of voter fraud. However, we can’t let fear stop us from trying something new, and at this point I trust that the City Clerk’s Office has been diligent in its implementation of the internet voting system. It’s also prudent of them to have it open only in advance of election day.

It is will be interesting to see if online voting actually increases voter turnout. I hope it will. I do suspect however that the fact that we previously had to physically go to a voting booth has not been the reason behind low voter turnout. We are lucky in Canada that we don’t need to wait in a line for three days in order to cast a ballot. Low voter turnout is due to apathy, not the “inconvenience” of voting. I’m sure sociologists have advanced various hypotheses to explain voter apathy in municipal elections in Ontario.

In my opinion, a big factor is our first-past-the-post electoral system: it’s not an adequate system when you have more than two candidates. Not until we introduce a different electoral system, such as preferential voting (where a voter gets to rank candidates in their order of preference), will we begin to redress voter apathy and mitigate strategic voting. In Guelph, we get to vote for two Councillors per ward, which is a good alternative to the first-past-the-post system at the Ward level.

However, that is not the case for the mayoral level, and in this election in particular, strategic voting will be widespread I’m sure. The current Council for the City of Toronto asked the province to allow preferential voting but unfortunately the bill died with the spring provincial election. If elected I will advocate for the City of Guelph to request that the province amend legislation to allow preferential voting at the mayoral level in Guelph for the 2018 elections.

10) What issue, aside from any previously mentioned in this questionnaire, do you think should be a priority and why?

Bicycle lanes. My top five reasons why:

It’s heartbreaking to hear news of a cyclist’s death on our streets.

Bicycle lanes slow vehicles down, which makes our streets safer not only for cyclists, but for drivers and pedestrians of all ages as well.

Bicycle lanes make us healthier because they encourage us to use active transportation as a form of exercise. A healthier population lessens the burden of health care costs on the public purse.

Fewer car trips means less wear and tear on our roads, which reduces the big expense that are road repairs.

Street parking and bicycle lanes are not mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, they are too often framed as such, and when bicycles “win”, there is resentment from residents that don’t use them. In reality, many cities have streets that incorporate both, including Norwich here in Guelph.

11) How can local government be a force for good in the lives of the people of Guelph?

In 1996, the Region of Waterloo was the first municipality in Ontario to ban smoking in restaurants and bars. In 2006, the Ontario government enacted the ban province-wide.

In 1991, the town of Hudson, Quebec, was the first municipality in Canada to ban the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes. In 2008, the Ontario government enacted a similar ban province-wide.

My point with these two examples is this: municipal government is the perfect arena to implement and test new and bold ideas at a small scale. And when people realize that their lives have improved and the sky didn’t fall, it’s a catalyst for change on a much larger scale. And that’s a force for good.

12) Where can voters get more information about you and your campaign?

t: @Karolynepickett

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