Issues, Concerns and Pop Culture Discussed at Ward 1 Forum

Ward 1’s eight candidates faced off Wednesday night at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Reverend John Borthwick hosted the forum – not a debate – and asked the candidates about their plans, the issues from their fellow Ward 1 residents, and, surprisingly, their favourite pop culture artifact.

Opening Arguments

The two incumbents in Ward 1 argued for their re-election on the basis of experience.

Dan Gibson listed his the intiatives and accomplishments he’s supported over the last four years, while Bell explained that “I believe I have earned the respect of Guelphites when it comes to spending your tax dollars.”

Challenger Mark Gernon begged to disagree saying that issues in the ward were not being addressed. “[Ward 1] requires two very strong active voices, and in my experience, in the last four years, only one councillor has had the strength to bring our issues forward.”

Charlene Downey promised her full commitment saying, “I don’t commit to anything halfway.” While Barbara Mann called herself “a planning geek,” and that she was “excited now because there’s a movement to bring back the old neighbourhood.”

Jax Thornton described themself as “a celestial body of chaotic gay energy,” and added that “we need more young people to run for office because council needs to think about long term environmental impacts,” meaning buildings that last 100 years, preserving ground water and growing the tree canopy.

Jamie Killingsworth said that people want Guelph to remain the city that it is, but at the same time, “We’re developing big city problems.” He also made the boldest promise of the night, “I will only run for two terms. I believe the job has a shelf life.”

Council Goals

The diverse slate of candidates had a diverse bunch of ideas about what their potential term on council might look like.

Thornton said they wanted to make ground water a priority, while Killingsworth said that he would like to take a small role in making sure the downtown library is eventually built.

Gernon, meanwhile, revisited the classic Ward 1 dilemma of the property on Starwood that “Loblaws’ abandoned” and how he’d like to see something finally done there.

Downey said that she’s heard “40,000 stories” while campaigning, and many of them have to do with homelessness. “We’re looking at five to 10 years, but we need something now,” she said. “We can look at the zoning bylaw, and how you need three parking spaces for accessory apartments. Things like laneway housing, and tiny houses.”

Gibson was also thinking about housing. “The IMICo ground breaking is important to the broader housing issues we’re facing,” he explained. Gibson added that he’d also like to be known as a “receptive councillor,” and that he’d like to see commercial opportunities on York Rd. to be developed.

Gibson’s fellow incumbent Bell agreed on York Rd. saying,  “This is much more than a paving job, but a key factor in creating commercial in the east end.”

“If we work towards a better, livable, safe community, were going to be doing other things like having value for our taxes, and sustainability with green technologies,” said Mann in the most high-minded response. “I think people feel like development is moving too fast. They’re not against intensification, they’re against bad intensification.”

Dave Heffernan though wanted to get back to basics. “We’re nitpicking over the size of driveways,” he said adding that council needs a change in attitude. “It’s not how do I stop you, it’s about how do I get you to where you want to be.”

From the Campaign Trail

It seems that if there’s one thing that all the candidates in Ward 1 can agree on, it’s what the concerns of their potential constituents are. Concerns about rising crime, homelessness, driveway bylaws, infrastructure, and speeding on residential roads were touched on several times.

There were some additional items though.

Downey mentioned that someone she talked to suggested that the ward needs a city-wide draw like a fenced in dog ark.

Gernon said that he had heard a lot about fixing sidewalks, “especially for people with walkers. We need that infrastructure fixed and make sure that people can get around safely without tripping over their own feet.”

Thornton mentioned transit, saying that the present system “caters to university students which doesn’t make it look like an essential service.” They added that they would push for buses every 15 minutes, and for the purchase of solar and electric buses.

The Pop Culture Question

Borthwick threw in curveball, non-political question, “What is your favourite book, TV show or movie?”

For Killingsworth, it was TV, specifically the AMC drama Mad Men. Heffernan also turned to TV with the sitcom Modern Family. “Sometimes I just want to watch something stupid and relax,” he said.

Thornton chose the Canadian comedy The Trotsky because it taught them about activism. Gernon likes The Shawshank Redemption because it’s about “overcoming adversity by keeping a positive attitude.” Gibson went with The Natural, because it’s “a true story of perseverance.”

In books, Mann named Jane Jacobs’ The Death of an American City because “it’s a reminder that the combination of things creates a great community.” Bell, meanwhile, sited the J.R.R. Tolkien books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings because of the way Tolkien “defined a good society and a bad society and the philosophy of power.”

Downey, however, found political inspiration in the superhero Spider-Man. “The idea that with great power comes great responsibility was something I made sure my children understood.”

Closing Statement

“I know I’m definitely a different type of candidate, but I think asking questions and learning is how we’re going to move forward,” Thornton said.

“The point of elections is about showing that we have lots of work to do,” Gernon said. “With the amount of files currently open, and the ones that are to come, hopefully we can work together.”

Gibson said that while he’s learned a lot about the east end representing Ward 1, he’s also strengthened his connections to the rest of the city. “I can’t promise you the answer you want, but I can promise you an answer,” he added.

Killingsworth made an appeal to the voters. “The residents of Ward 1 are very engaged, and they’re not afraid to share their views with me,” he said. “They understand what it’s going to take to move forward.”

Mann also made an appeal to voters in terms of making a new ideas a reality for the Royal City. “You will be doing delegations about your dreams that we can make realities,” she said.

Bell praised the people running in this election saying that there are “more qualified candidates the city at large than ever before.” As for his five terms of experience, Bell said that he’s “an independent thinker. I move around, I stands with you and what’s in your best interest.”

Downey said that she feels like she’s already been doing the work of a councillor by talking about the issues with stakeholders. “It’s about making connections and at the end of the day that’s what I love doing,” she said. “I’m getting the vibe that we’re waiting, we’re at a crossroads, and there are going to be some powerful shifts coming up.”

Heffernan got the last word. “I want there to be a cultural change where the inmates aren’t taking over the asylum,” he said. Instead, he aims for a new culture of service, “What can I do for you? How can I help you with whatever your problem is?” he asked.

You can listen to the entire forum in the sound clip posted below.

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