Leanne Piper has enjoyed many years on city council, and she’s hoping that Ward 5 voters are going to give her four more.
1) In 100 words or less, what’s your main reason to run for council?
Cities are changing. Pressure to grow, infrastructure renewal, loss of tree canopy, climate change, energy system transformation, water quality and so many other challenges are looming ahead. Experience matters now more than ever. Guelph is uniquely poised to not only face these challenges, but to be leaders and innovators. We also have a culture of caring. We want quality of life for all, not just the few. I am running for Council again because I want to see us stay the course on many of the major decisions we have made over the past few years that will protect and enhance our quality of life.
2) What, in your opinion, was the most consequential decision on council last term?
Our Asset Management Plan. Not the sexiest decision we’ve ever made, but the impact is huge. Three key spinoffs of this transformational plan were a) the infrastructure levy, b) the stormwater levy and c) the hydro merger. These decisions required extensive consultation and research and were all politically controversial. But they were the right courses of action that will stand the test of history. Much like the 1920s and 1950s, our city (and every other city in North America) is currently faced with a complete overhaul of our underground infrastructure and aging energy system. Our ability to attract business, provide stable energy to residents and businesses, and to maintain our green spaces will ensure we are ready to face the challenges ahead.
3) What is *your* issue? What is the one thing you want to accomplish during your term at council?
I don’t have one single issue. The economy, environment and engagement are three focus areas that I will champion during the campaign. One thing I want to accomplish during the next term is enhanced engagement and communication with residents. This includes reviewing our electoral system to consider ranked ballots, ward boundaries and composition, and more open government initiatives. By open government, I am referring to improving access to information and more everyday services available online. Also, I would like to see our citizens participate more in the democratic process with more online engagement and education tools. The loss of local print media has resulted in a communication void making it harder for citizens to access information. I will work to fill that gap.
4) What is your understanding of affordable housing versus social housing? How can Guelph develop both?
“Social Housing” is operated by Wellington County, our provider of social services and is partially funded by the Province to provide rental housing . “Affordable Housing” is a term that we define locally as housing that meets a specific income threshold. Guelph can actively advocate for more funds and provincial housing policies to build social housing, as well as a national housing strategy. We can encourage the construction of more affordable units through grants, or through planning policies that require a certain percentage of all new units to meet the affordability threshold. The next Council will develop our next Official Plan and a new Zoning Bylaw where such policies can be included.
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 a rather impressive Growth Management Plan. It envisions the creation of an urban growth centre (downtown), as well as intensification corridors along transit routes and arterial roads. But it also protects existing stable neighbourhoods and greenspace. Our Brownfields Strategy (to clean up and develop former industrial or contaminated sites such as IMICO) go hand in hand with these growth plans. We are currently exceeding the Places to Grow targets. Things we could be doing differently: encourage more heritage conservation districts, more pedestrian linkages and trail connections, and better transit to support growth.
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?
My family and I are transit users. I have a transit stop right outside my home. During the last term, I gave up my car as an experiment for a full month (no cheating!) and was dependent on transit. I think each member of Council understands transit from their own unique lens. My lens is through my own experience, my family, and hearing from riders. As a representative of a large university student population, I understand their challenges through feedback.
Moving forward, transit improvements should focus on three areas: a) reliability, b) frequency and c) route review. Riders need to know their bus will be on time. Increased frequency will mean riders will view transit as more convenient than driving. And routes that get citizens closer to their home or destination, and easy transfers, will increase ridership. The 99 Mainline route should allow for transfers at any point along the route, and an 99 Express that does not stop at the UC would be a great addition to this route. All of these solutions require more funding. Not all the improvements should be funded from a rate increase, but also from grants and taxation. There is an economic, social and environmental benefit to increasing use of transit that offsets the cost. That is a long term goal and a long term payoff.
7) What needs to be done to improve Regional Transit? (This includes intercity buses, two-way all-day GO trains, and high-speed rail?
Integrate the system with local transit and offer incentives through Province (increase use of Presto system). Routes to Hamilton, London and Waterloo need to be incentivized or subsidized until ridership makes it profitable, which can take time to establish routines and demand. Metrolinx is currently upgrading the rail infrastructure (all the construction between downtown and the west end) to prepare for increased service.
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?
Water-taking permits. As a city entirely dependent on groundwater, we need more control over access and source protection of the local water supply.
9) How do you define a taxpayer? What is the responsibility of a councillor when it comes to budgeting?
Taxpayers are citizens first. Our Council responsibility is always to make decisions for the public good. Budgeting is a process and an outcome that reflects community priorities. It is a process that benefits from balance and experience.
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?
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)
A good example of my thinking during the decision-making process, and one of the hardest decisions I have made during my years on Council, was voting in favour of the demolition of the historic Cotton Mill on Farquhar Street. As an avid supporter of protecting our cultural and architectural heritage, the building would normally have been something I would have wanted to see retained and restored. However, its removal was an essential part of securing two-way GO train service at the downtown Guelph Central Station. The site was needed to build the Kiss’n’Ride drop off and parking area. My decision-making process included an analysis of benefits to the community and my obligation to act for the greatest public good. I felt that securing GO Transit service was more important than saving the Cotton Mill. Part of the trade off also included saving the 1866 Drill Hall. I measure every decision by its impact on the next generation, and at the time, I felt that growth of our inter-regional transit system was essential for our environment and our economy.
12) Is there a municipal issue that you don’t think gets enough attention? What is it and why should it get more attention?
Urban forestry. It doesn’t get enough attention because, on the surface, it’s about trees. But it is so much more than that. The health of our urban forest is essential for stormwater management, air quality, climate change mitigation, heat relief, biodiversity, wildlife habitat and quality of life. The impact of canopy loss due to Emerald Ash Borer has been a significant challenge and will continue to be felt for years. Increased planting and diversity of species requires additional resources at budget time.
13) Where can people learn more about you, or your campaign, and how can they get in touch with you?