CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE – Mary Thring for Ward 2 Councillor

With only incumbent running in Ward 2, there’s opportunity for someone new running their to join city council, and Mary Thring hopes that voters will choose her.

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

I love Guelph.  I was thrilled to return eight years ago to the City that I grew up in, and make my home in Ward 2.  I cherish our parks and trails and the original urban design that gave us beautiful buildings and a green, walkable, livable city. Guelph has grown and changed, as any healthy organism should. As a City, there is a lot we can be proud of and many reasons for optimism.

Over the past few years, I have noticed with alarm and frustration a City administration that is devoted to lofty ideals but is distracted from the day-to-day responsibilities that we expect of people spending from the public purse.  I’m talking about neglected infrastructure and construction projects large and small that run late and wildly over budget. I am concerned about a once thriving downtown that, despite some great local businesses, has too many empty storefronts and often just feels neglected and sad. I am also motivated by the opioid crisis, the rising crime rate, and the approach of the Guelph Police Service to community policing. Despite increased development and growing employment, there is a shocking level of homelessness that is not being addressed.

Council can and should do better.

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

The merger of Guelph Hydro.

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

Accountability + Quality of Life.

A city councillor should not represent any particular special interest or advocacy group.  A councillor should be neutral, open to consider issues from all perspectives, for all stakeholders, and advocate for those stakeholders with Council and staff. Voting blocks, party orthodoxy and social engineering experiments waste time and distract from the essential task of representing people in the delivery of essential day-to-day services.

I would like people in Guelph to have a clearer understanding of the City’s finances. This means City Hall communications that include benchmarks and key performance indicators. People need to see that resources are being managed appropriately and responsibly.

I would also like all of us to feel safe in our homes, have access to green space and have a sense of stability and optimism about our neighbourhoods and communities.

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

There is housing affordability, affordable housing and subsidized (social) housing that is rent-geared-to-income.

We need a healthy variety of housing stock for a broad range of incomes.  Market forces including availability, demand, and wages determine housing affordability. In Canada, housing is considered affordable if it costs less than 30% of a household’s pre-tax income.  This is whether it is owned, rented, co-operative, temporary or permanent.   In order to ensure affordability and livability, Guelph needs to look at a variety of housing options and its zoning laws.

In Guelph, the County of Wellington administers housing assistance.  Affordable housing is defined as 80% of median market rent, and there is a maximum household income limit for eligibility.  In rent-geared-to-income (RGI) or subsidized housing, tenants pay a portion of their rent based on income.   Funding for housing assistance is based on transfers from the federal, provincial and (to a lesser extent) municipal governments.

There is an ongoing and growing demand in Guelph, and yet there has been no significant construction of subsidized housing in the city for over 20 years.  The next Council must work proactively with the County, the Province and the Federal government, as well as the for- and non-profit sectors to address this issue, and not kick the can down the road to the next council.

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?

The City needs to use the tools of zoning and planning to require greater variety, imagination and energy efficiency in its built environment.  A range of housing types, quality design and construction, green building standards, walkable communities with green space and commercial hubs, and long-term commitments to sustainability can improve Guelph’s built environment and ensure both market desirability and mandated growth.

Presently, we are failing with respect to our urban forests and tree canopy in new developments and existing neighbourhoods.  Our parks and trails are under pressure from increased use and natural phenomena such as ice storms and the emerald ash borer are taking a toll on an already aging tree canopy.  Trees are the most cost-effective enhancement to the environment and mitigator for climate change.  We can encourage and incentivize property owners to plant and protect trees.  New developments must meet their obligations for green space and tree planting.  The City needs to be far more aggressive about tree planting, maintenance, and development and protection of green space and naturalized areas, including working effectively with GRCA to protect our rivers.

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?

Transit is not supposed to be a money-making operation.  It is essential to urban liveability and affordability.  Efficient transit supports employment. While the Gordon Street corridor is heavily serviced, there needs to be reliable, regular, year-round transit across the city.  It was encouraging to see managers riding transit to meet and listen to customers, and that additional drivers have been hired. The fleet itself should be evaluated for running costs – perhaps smaller, more efficient vehicles can serve less heavily trafficked routes or during times of lower demand.    As the city grows, and people complain about traffic, reliable predictable transit is one way to encourage people to leave the car at home.

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

The City should work collaboratively with other local governments, post-secondary institutions and employers to make the business case to private operators (intercity buses) and the Province (two-way all-day GO trains).

Rick Mercer once did a classic sketch illustrating that Canada’s great expertise is creating reports about high-speed rail.  The 2018-2022 council can and should support high-speed rail, but also be realistic about where that vision is likely going to end up.

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?

Transfers from other levels of governments should be directed at more sustainable program funding rather than one-time grants.

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

Everyone is a taxpayer, with every transaction, every day.

Councillors must distinguish between needs and wants, balance the viewpoints of all stakeholders, and ensure that there is transparency around all city finances. This means communications that include benchmarks and key performance indicators. People need and want to know how their money is spent and why.

Municipal financing is complex.  The next council will, for the first time, be implementing a four-year budget cycle.  Guelph is a $500 million corporation. Councillors, newly elected and incumbent, should receive mandatory training in municipal finance from a qualified external professional and have a true understanding of Guelph’s audited financial picture before making long-term taxation policy and spending commitments.

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?

It is not hypothetical.  The City is and will be facing budget issues that are likely to be addressed with a request for increased taxes, one of the only revenue-generating tools at its disposal.   A major factor in Guelph’s budget is salaries and wages. I think we should review previous councils’ approval of staff hiring at the management and executive levels, and consider a regular review of performance, duplication of roles and duties, and potential efficiencies.

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 2005, like so many others, I watched the devastation of Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast.  I was shocked that in America, the richest of countries, so many people could be left in such peril -and then the stories emerged of the many abandoned and distressed animals.  With no real contacts or network, I asked myself the age-old question:  “If not me, who?  If not now, when?”  Using my own resources, I travelled to Louisiana and spent two weeks volunteering with the animal rescue effort.  I met incredible people from many walks of life who were committed to doing their best in a time of extraordinary need. It was hard work and one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, not least because I was able to return with a sweet dog who was my devoted companion for the next ten years.

Sometimes in life, you see a situation where you know you can help, and you must have the courage to step up and work hard, not for money or glory, but because it is the right thing to do.

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 think we should prepare ourselves to be more flexible.

Guelph has enjoyed over 150 years of prosperity based on two pillars of strength – a robust agricultural sector and manufacturing.  The University, Conestoga College and the presence of a provincial ministry and federal agencies have also contributed to the City’s growth and stability. While Guelph was able to weather the 2008 recession reasonably well compared to some places in Canada, we are now living in uncertain times.

The new provincial government will be in place for the duration of the 2018-2022 council.  The province can and likely will create or eliminate programs that will cost municipalities money.  The national and international economic pictures, particularly tariffs and trade negotiations, will have a direct and immediate impact on Guelph’s manufacturing and agri-business sectors.  Hard times may well be looming, and the next City Council needs to be realistic in its outlook and be prepared to alter course as required.

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

On the Web: electmaryward2.website
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/ElectMaryWard2
Email: mary.thring@gmail.com

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