With Andy Van Hellemond taking his leave of council, that leaves James Gordon as the one incumbent for Ward 2 to stand for re-election. Can he make the case for voters to give him a second term instead of starting over with a clean slate?
1) In 100 words or less, what’s your main reason to run for council?
As an incumbent, I feel that there is still much more that I’d like to accomplish in a second term; work that is unfinished; issues that still need to be addressed. With our change in provincial government, we will need a strong, cohesive, forward-thinking council to meet the considerable challenge posed by shifting Queen’s Park policies that threaten our Guelph identity, our green economy, and our most vulnerable citizens. I’d like to lend my experience gained in my first term towards finding ways to meet those challenges effectively.
2) What, in your opinion, was the most consequential decision on council last term?
Voting to merge our local hydro utility with Alectra.
3) What is *your* issue? What is the one thing you want to accomplish during your term at council?
Well, I always want to do EVERYTHING, but if I had to pick one, I’d like to use what influence we have as a city, working with community partners, to eliminate the threats to our local and finite groundwater supply by finding ways to deny water-taking permits for profit-based corporations who do not have the best interests of our city at heart. That being said, I get tired of asking developers how many units in their proposed projects would be affordable or social housing. The answer is usually “none’ because it’s provincial policy that dictates this. If we are to meet our housing challenges, we need to have a ‘made-in-Guelph’ solution and be able to create our own rules around this.
4) What is your understanding of affordable housing versus social housing? How can Guelph develop both?
These terms DO get misused and are confusing to many. I see affordable housing as being 80% of market value, still out of reach to many of our citizens who are struggling. Social housing is geared-to-income, and that’s our biggest ‘gap’ in what really is in my view a housing crisis in our community. The province has appointed the county as the official ‘provider’ for social housing, yet there is a fear that the funding provided to the county for this will be unable to meet the demand. I feel that to meet the needs of those who need housing help the most, the city needs to take on housing initiatives on its own, beginning with increasing our housing reserve fund.
5) Guelph is required by provincial mandate to accept thousands of new residents by the middle of this century. How is the City presently managing growth? What should we be doing differently?
With our recent work on urban design strategies, and a master plan that IS conscious of our need to keep our identity while our density increases, we have come along way towards finding a way forward. I think we still are too influenced by developers who bring forward proposals that are not compatible with our desire to have walkable, mixed-use, eco-friendly neighbourhoods, where growth pays for itself in the infrastructure costs, and that accommodate affordable and geared-to-income housing. We need to solidify our vision for the future of our city and STICK to it!
6) Transit. First, what is your experience using transit? Second, do you think council and staff presently understand issues with transit? And third, what is one specific thing you would suggest to improve Guelph Transit service?
I cycle or walk to work, and tend to shop in the downtown core where I live, so I’m not using transit services that often. When I DO, I’m impressed with the dedication of transit workers and with our staff’s efforts to make transit more efficient. I think there is still a learning curve on council with understanding the needs of our transit riders. We will not increase our ridership, which we need to do for many reasons, if we can’t provide a service that feels more effective, efficient and convenient than getting in a car, and we are still behind in providing a regular and comprehensive service that gets people to work, school and appointments on time for those who have no other option that using public transit. One relatively easy thing to do would be to raise awareness of, and frequency of, our community busses. There is confusion about what they are and where they go- more education and promotion will help.
7) What needs to be done to improve Regional Transit? (This includes intercity buses, two-way all-day GO trains, and high-speed rail?
Try taking a bus from Guelph to Kitchener/Waterloo, Cambridge or Hamilton. It’s nearly impossible to do this in an efficient, timely manner. Two-way-all-day Go Service will help, and at the same time we need to be collaborating with our neighbouring cities to work on more efficient bus service. We need to create a new ownership and service model for this. I am not convinced that Guelph could meet the infrastructure needs for high speed rail in the coming generation, but am keen to explore options.
8) If there’s one power that’s currently the jurisdiction of the province or the federal governments, but should be transferred to municipalities, what would it be and why?
Beginning with the Harris years, we’ve had a lot of responsibilities downloaded to municipalities and our funding to take on these new areas has not been consistent or enough. It’s been a struggle for our city to keep up.
9) How do you define a taxpayer? What is the responsibility of a councillor when it comes to budgeting?
I don’t actually like the term “taxpayer”. It makes our citizens feel like that’s our main contribution to our city when there are many more ways than that to take part in improving our city. I prefer ‘residents’ for some of us are NOT taxpayers due to marginal income, yet we deserve a voice too. As a councillor, at budget time, I often ask myself “Is anyone being left behind by this decision? Is it of benefit to only a few, and does it negatively affect some?” I am committed to providing the best “value” for our tax contributions. If we have to raise taxes, which I think we all do reluctantly around the horseshoe, then we must recognize a real value for our entire community, we must be able to see WHY those taxes are going up and what the risks are in underfunding some important areas in order to reach an artificial tax ‘line in the sand’.
10) Hypothetical: The City’s in a budget crunch, and a substantial tax increase is cost prohibitive for the average Guelphite, so a cut *has* to be made. What City of Guelph service do you look at and why?
If we “Had” to, I would trim equally across the board rather than eliminate programmes or services that might negatively affect sectors in our community.
11) Describe a time you had to make a tough decision, and the thought process you went through in order to reach that decision? (Doesn’t have to be political)
Going back to question #2, I was one of only 3 councillors to vote against our hydro merger. I had the utmost respect for staff’s recommendation, and for the though process behind my other colleagues who voted ‘for it’, yet my gut told me that this was really not what the majority of our community wanted. We are a city known for ‘doing it ourselves’ and for showing leadership and innovation in the energy sector. I ended up voting with what I felt was the community will, though it was a very hard decision to make.
12) Is there a municipal issue that you don’t think gets enough attention? What is it and why should it get more attention?
As someone who works in the cultural sector, I had planned to be a ‘champion’ of cultural and arts issues on council. I was surprised and disappointed at how little this comes up. It’s not because of my own preference for supporting culture: it’s been proven that investment and support for our artists can have major economic and social benefits. We are known internationally for our artists and our many music, dance and visual arts festivals provide amazing returns for the limited funding we provide. I am pleased with the work we HAVE done as a city, and our staff is very supportive, yet at the same time I think we could enhance the over-all quality of life in our community with more attention devoted to this.
13) Where can people learn more about you, or your campaign, and how can they get in touch with you?