CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE – Mark MacKinnon for Ward 6 Councillor

Mark MacKinnon is the only Ward 6 councillor running for re-election, and he’s hoping that his constituents in Guelph’s Far South aren’t looking to run a clean slate.

1) In 100 words or less, what’s your main reason to run for council?

I’d like to continue serving the residents of Guelph because the work that I began four years ago is not yet finished. The city’s finances have been turned around — with more than $24 million in debt paid down and our reserve funds rescued from critically low levels — but there is still work to be done. I’ve helped secure the city’s future with responsible and sustainable funding for our city infrastructure, but there’s still work to be done. I have confidence that the skills, perspectives, and passion I bring to council will be a valuable asset over these next four years.

2) What, in your opinion, was the most consequential decision on council last term?

Undoubtedly, the city’s long-term commitment to infrastructure was the most important accomplishment over this last term of council. Guelph, like most cities across Canada, has a significant infrastructure funding gap that jeopardises the future health, safety, and security of our residents. For the past four years, I have been a tireless advocate on council for the responsible and sustainable funding of our city’s infrastructure needs and I am thrilled that bold leadership has made tremendous progress in just a few short years. Not only has Guelph established a dedicated infrastructure fund to properly sustain our existing infrastructure (such as roads, pipelines, buildings, parks, and transportation systems), but we have also created a new Asset Management department to properly address the maintenance and repair of our ongoing infrastructure needs through rigorous modelling and forecasting. These vital initiatives have never been done before in Guelph, and I am proud to have been influential in guiding council’s direction.

3) What is *your* issue? What is the one thing you want to accomplish during your term at council?

Trying to narrow my vision for council down to a single task to check off a to-do list is nearly impossible, but I believe it can be best encapsulated with the phrase “responsible leadership”. Whether it’s financial issues like tax rates and reserve funds, public service issues like transit and community centres, development issues like new neighbourhoods and streets, or city-building issues like active transportation and parks — Guelph needs and deserves rational and evidenced-based decision making from council. If I can play a role in helping maintain such responsible leadership over these next four years, then I would consider that a substantial accomplishment.

4) What is your understanding of affordable housing versus social housing? How can Guelph develop both?

I believe I have a firm understanding of Ontario’s housing continuum and the sharp difference between social housing (a largely provincial and federal responsibility) and affordable housing (a responsibility of all levels of government). Although social housing is administered on behalf of the province by Wellington County (for the entire county, including Guelph) through their social services committee, our city has an important role to play on that committee and we can help administer provincial policy. The city has a much larger role to play in creating policies that encourage affordable market housing, and it’s vital that council understands how we can direct a larger housing vision. Through the creation of affordable-friendly housing bylaws and development policies, we can ensure that Guelph is a welcoming city for all.

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?

We have exceptional engineering and development policy staff working to manage our provincially mandated growth as efficiently and effectively as possible. City growth can be uncomfortable, uneven, and messy because residential growth impacts the daily lives of those who already live here and few people see its benefit. With a solid Official Plan to help guide such growth — updated regularly and supported by reasonable development policy — Guelph has done very well managing the influx of new city residents. One particular strength we’ll have moving forward is our new Asset Management department that we put in place this past council term to ensure our future growth is better guided with modelling and forecasting. Solid policies create solid foundations for growth plans and Guelph is on the right track to handle our intensification.

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?

On the occasions that I have used Guelph Transit over the past few years to travel across the city, I have found it fast and efficient. I don’t rely on transit as my sole means of transportation, though, and I am aware of the havoc that missing busses and delayed connections can wreak on transit riders’ plans. Public satisfaction can be much higher, and although vast improvements in ridership volume have been made during this council term, there’s still much room for improvement. The importance of public transit is why I supported the year-long comprehensive transit service review that is currently underway and scheduled to be presented to the next term of council. This service review will finally provide council and senior city staff with a clear picture of our transit system strengths and weaknesses, and identify the areas where improvements are needed. One element I would like Guelph to implement would be a real-time, app-based subscription alert system that would proactively identify for riders delays and service interruptions as they happen, since the lack of reliable information flow results in rider frustration and chaos.

7) What needs to be done to improve Regional Transit? (This includes intercity buses, two-way all-day GO trains, and high-speed rail?

Reliable and affordable regional transit can become a reality with the financial and policy support of the provincial government. Guelph has been working closely with the province over the past several years to help pave the way for two-way, all-day GO trains, but the actual implementation of the system rests with the province. The situation is similar to the proposed high-speed rail corridor, on which Guelph will be a planned stop. With a new provincial government now in place, though, it remains to be seen how committed they are to improving regional transit 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?

I believe that municipalities should be given autonomous control over our own growth plans. The province’s Places to Grow legislation has set unreasonable density and population growth targets that have placed undue strain on our residents’ quality of life and their tax dollars. Growth does not pay for growth, and requiring Guelph to meet the 191,000 population target by 2041 will be a strain on the city and its residents. The province should let Guelph set it’s own path and let us grow with an eye towards liability and sustainability instead of simply numbers on a spreadsheet.

9) How do you define a taxpayer? What is the responsibility of a councillor when it comes to budgeting?

Municipal taxpayers include all residential and business land owners within the city boundary, as well as their tenants (who pay taxes through their rents). If you own land, or pay someone to use their land, you’re a taxpayer. Council’s responsibility to the taxpayers during budgets is three-fold:

1. Treat taxpayers money with respect and consider the impact of spending decisions across all income levels;
2. Provide value in the delivery of services to achieve an optimum return on the taxpayers’ investment;
3. Sustainably fund the needs of both today and tomorrow to avoid shifting the burden to the next generation.

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?

Cuts to services cannot be made responsibly without guidance from both the community and from city staff. Community and staff engagement is part of council’s mandate, and if the city needs to trim services to maintain budgetary affordability, council needs to listen to the advice of our residents and our professionals before weighting the pros and cons of various cuts. Of course, council should always look inward at the city’s administration and assets before investigating cuts to front-facing community services.

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)

This is an interesting question. I’ve been sitting in front of my computer for more than a half-hour trying to come up with an example of a tough decision before I realised that during my time on council very few decisions are actually tough to make. Sure, when first presented with a problem or dilemma, I may have found the decision daunting to make … but then my research and analysis begins, and a clear answer to the decision point is usually revealed. The correct (or sometimes, most correct) decision concerning huge issues during the past council term — such as merging Guelph Hydro with Alectra, replacing the Niska Bridge, implementing an infrastructure levy, etc. — becomes quite clear after thorough research, consultation, and factual review. There have been very few times that I have pushed the YES or NO button during a council vote when I haven’t been exceptionally confident that I have made the right decision. I vote with conviction because I’ve done my homework.

12) Is there a municipal issue that you don’t think gets enough attention? What is it and why should it get more attention?

I believe that not enough attention is given to our city programmes that were created to help those experiencing poverty, such as the affordable bus pass and FAIR (Fee Assistance in Recreation) programme. Guelph is a compassionate and caring city, I believe it is our civic responsibility to support those families that need it most. During the past council term, I successfully advocated for reducing our affordable bus pass discount below 50% of the normal monthly fare, but I know that council can do even better to make transit even more affordable for those in need. If re-elected as your Ward 6 councillor, I plan to make the affordability of such programmes a priority of council simply because it’s the right thing to do.

13) Where can people learn more about you, or your campaign, and how can they get in touch with you?

There are numerous ways you can engage with me during this election: visit my website at http://mark4ward6.ca; email me at vote@mark4ward6.ca; meet me on Facebook or Twitter at @mark4ward6; or call me at 519-829-5137. If you want to contact me as your current councillor about city matters unrelated to the election, you can alternatively reach me through my city email: mark.mackinnon@guelph.ca

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