Dominique O’Rourke has been a familiar face around Guelph for years, but now she aims to join the ranks of city council.
1) In 100 words or less, what’s your main reason to run for council?
The population in Guelph’s South end has grown rapidly but without a corresponding increase in municipal services, i.e. road widening and the South End Rec Centre. We need smarter development that balances growth and green spaces and preserves our quality of life. We’re seeing our neighbourhoods change dramatically and are concerned about density, traffic, speeding and taxes. We need affordable and livable communities and a strong voice at City Council. As a communications and public affairs professional with degrees in Economics and Leadership, I’m committed to being that voice and to keeping Ward 6 residents informed and engaged.
2) What, in your opinion, was the most consequential decision on council last term?
Approval of the “preferred” Clair-Maltby Secondary Plan (CMSP)- to develop Guelph’s last greenfield – was, in my opinion, the most consequential decision on council last term. I spoke to Council twice to urge them to: reconsider the massive intensification along Gordon St; wait for the environmental data and the community vision work to be completed; ensure plans align with the pledge to be zero carbon by 2050; include the South End Rec Centre in the plan; create something unique that everyone in Guelph can enjoy; and, ensure there is zoning for workplaces, a gas station and assisted living. Too many questions were unanswered before the vote. While the award-winning GID plan calls for main streets, workplaces and various innovations, none of these are found in the CMSP. Before we welcome 17,000-20,000 people in Clair-Maltby, we need to be sure our water table, roads, hospital and other infrastructure can support new and current residents and that we’ll have a real green gateway to Guelph.
I want a seat at the horseshoe to guide the next steps in this process.
3) What is *your* issue? What is the one thing you want to accomplish during your term at council?
I want to see a greater focus on public and private infrastructure in the South End. Public infrastructure in the short term includes: traffic alleviation, cut-ins for busses on Gordon, building the South End Rec Centre, protecting zoning for a gas station, and a bus route in the Hanlon Business Park. In the longer term, it means vision for a complete community in Clair-Maltby and planning to make sure infrastructure can support growth. From a private sector perspective, we need to: increase the density of employment, protect commercial zoning, and diversify our economy to meet our job targets and to shift some of the tax burden off residents.
4) What is your understanding of affordable housing versus social housing? How can Guelph develop both?
There is a spectrum of social, supportive and affordable housing that’s well defined in the Affordable Housing Strategy. This a wicked problem in all major cities and a little more complicated in Guelph because Wellington County, not Guelph, is the provincial service provider for social or supportive housing. We have very little control over the funding and construction of shelters, transitional housing, supportive or social housing.
However, we can tackle affordable housing. That’s defined as: annual accommodation costs that are no more than 30% of a household’s gross income, when the purchase price is at least 10% below average market value, or when rent is below the average market rent. Here are a few options:
- Increase the number of units available for rental or ownership to reduce scarcity. It’s basic supply and demand. The challenge is this may only attract buyers from other cities or investors.
- Incent developers to include affordable units in each development. Currently, this can be done by allowing more units than the zoning allows or by having financial incentives. Unfortunately, no money was allocated to those incentives in the last budget.
- Use Inclusionary Zoning. Since 2018, the province allows this land-use planning tool that can require residential developments to include affordable housing units in residential developments of 10 units or more. However, a number of policies and monitoring tools need to be in place first.
- Review by-laws regarding accessory apartments. These can help homeowners pay for their mortgages and people to find affordable accommodation.
- Partner! The City cannot do this alone. We need to work with other levels of government, NGOs, churches, Wellington County and developers.
There’s no silver bullet for affordable housing. Kudos to Habitat for Humanity for their City View project, to creative mortgage solutions used in developments like 5 Gordon and to Options for Homes which is planning a development in Clair-Maltby. All of these are moving in the right direction on affordable rental and ownership.
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?
Since 2001, the population south of Stone Road increased by 54.7% or 3.4% each year but the infrastructure has not kept pace. The next term of Council will review the Transportation Master Plan for the first time since 2006. This needs to look at road widening, turning lanes and traffic concerns in the South End. We also need to build the long-overdue South End Rec centre to build capacity for the entire city.
I’m concerned about intensification plans for Gordon Street and believe high residential density can be spread more evenly throughout the city. We need to review the goals and zoning for the Hanlon Creek Business Park to increase job density to meet employment targets, reduce commute times, diversify the local economy and keep people working in Guelph. Our hospital also needs to be able to care for a growing, and aging, population.
We can welcome thousands of new people – and the talent they bring – let’s just make sure we maintain the quality of life that attracts them to Guelph in the first place.
6) 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’ve lived in Ottawa and Toronto and used transit daily; but that’s before I was a parent with kids to take a million places. The system was reliable, faster than driving and took me where I needed to go. Now, I take transit to special events downtown and my kids are learning to use it. I love the reduced fare for special events.
For daily transit users, reliability has to be the priority. People simply have to get to work or school on time. The routes also have to go where people work. For instance, we need a route in the Hanlon Business Park and schedules that help shift workers not only get to work, but get home afterwards. There also has to be room on the bus for people to get on at rush hour.
Guelph Transit is making a concerted effort to listen to concerns and just hired more drivers. Council is eagerly awaiting a Transit review and the Transit Advisory Committee provides input on an ongoing basis.
I’ll look to the experts for route and reliability solutions. I’m also interested in Kingston’s model of free transit for students under 14, electrification of busses to help Guelph meet its renewable energy target, and ensuring we have enough mobility services for an aging population.
7) What needs to be done to improve Regional Transit? (This includes intercity buses, two-way all-day GO trains, and high-speed rail?
In order of priority: We need to push for two-way, all day GO trains. That’s where we have the most traction, but we need to ensure people have a place to park or that it’s convenient to access by bus.
Intercity buses are trickier. In the short term, I’d like to see collaboration between the municipalities, Conestoga College, Laurier and the University of Waterloo to shuttle students to class. Longer term solutions need collaboration between different levels of government and the private sector.
High-speed rail is a fairy tale. We need to focus our energy where we can make progress.
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 won’t mess with the Constitution. Let’s focus on our mandate and do it well. At the same time, let’s recognize that 181 pieces of provincial legislation affect municipalities. More autonomy at the local level would reduce constraints.
9) How do you define a taxpayer? What is the responsibility of a councillor when it comes to budgeting?
There’s a difference between a citizen and a taxpayer. Taxpayer implies a transaction, i.e., I pay you X and I receive Y. Being a citizen means you pay for police, fire and ambulance and hope you don’t have to use it yourself. You pay for schools long after your kids are out of the system because an educated population has higher living standards and better health outcomes. Citizens contribute to the greater good and future prosperity of the city and its residents.
At the same time, citizens want to their hard-earned money to be well spent. They want to see priorities set, accountability and progress on objectives. They want councillors to realize families can’t take endless increases. Just because the assessment on your home went up, doesn’t mean your income did too.
Council needs to set priorities, be disciplined during the course of the year and clearly understand the impact of any new work council direction creates for staff. Council should also set the budget direction rather than receive a budget from staff and then work to trim the overall amount. Departments, where appropriate, can seek to maximize revenues like bus advertising, concessions, etc. Budgeting is not done once a year. It’s keeping an eye on costs all the time.
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?
This is not a hypothetical. A substantial tax increase is prohibitive for the average Guelphite. So, I look to the service review results and the internal auditor to suggest where cuts can be made. I look at expenditures that can be postponed. I look at where we can scale down. For example, we don’t need a video to highlight every city project. I freeze new, non-essential, projects like the bike park or upgrades to St. George’s Square. I protect expenditures that are essential to health, safety, infrastructure and jobs.
I also look to new sources of income like attracting more business to shift taxes off homeowners, generating more city revenues through venue rentals, parking, bus advertising, etc.
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)
In 2015, I decided to leave a well-paying, secure and local job with the provincial government to work with Special Olympics Ontario and the Guelph Police Service on the 2016 Special Olympics Provincial Spring Games. The salary was not nearly the same and it was only a one-year, part-time contract but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to serve my community in this way. I imagined standing at the opening ceremonies and knowing I had helped bring this event to life. I loved meeting Guelph’s business and community leaders, the athletes and coaches and more than 600 volunteers. It fuelled my love of this community and my desire to serve formally as a City Councillor.
12) Is there a municipal issue that you don’t think gets enough attention? What is it and why should it get more attention?
Roads and parking may not be sexy but they’re a daily issue. In 2016, more than 51,000 Guelphites drove to work compared to just under 10,000 who took transit, walked or biked. Cars are a fact. Not everyone can shift to transit or active transportation. Yet the City’s Commercial Service review calls for fewer parking spaces, developers use a factor of 1.5 cars per household and don’t include visitor spaces in developments, and planners don’t include enough parking on city streets. The result is unsafe parking on both sides of the road. This is a serious issue for emergency vehicles, school buses, snow plows and safety. The next term of council will undertake a comprehensive by-law review. We’ll have to balance environmental protection, road safety and affordability – all with a massive dose of common sense.
13) Where can people learn more about you, or your campaign, and how can they get in touch with you?
I’m trying to get to each of Ward 6’s 197 streets, but if we don’t connect in person, please visit www.orourkeward6.ca. Email email@example.com. Call 226-926-3180 or follow ORourkeWard6 on Twitter and Facebook.