CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE – Aggie Mlynarz for Mayor

In her second election of the year, Aggie Mlynarz hopes to upset the present incumbent to become the next Mayor of Guelph.

1) In 200 words or less, why do you want to be the Mayor of Guelph?

I want to be Mayor of Guelph because I feel we deserve better, more accountable leadership.

I want to truly prioritize green space and clean water, to get our transit on track, and to support citywide mental health. I see us leaving people behind as we grow, and I know that won’t change under the current leadership. There are better ways of moving forward. Facilitating a bottom-up approach to governance, where voices of citizens are made a top priority instead of a hurdle on the way to private consultation is what we need.

We don’t need a cheerleader, we need a strategist. Someone who can take the team that is Guelph, our government and citizens alike, and coordinate their efforts towards common goals – not just play games. I have lived, learned, and worked in our amazing city, and I want to honour the voices in it around the horseshoe and in every ward.

The last four years have been disappointing, and I think it’s time we go in a new direction.

2) How do you understand the role of mayor in terms of the position’s role on Council?

The role of the mayor, in terms of their position on Council, is to coordinate the efforts of elected council members, staff, and the larger community into policy and attitude for the government overall. Pen-on-paper policy work isn’t all that glamorous, but it’s what keeps our city afloat, and ensures a healthy democracy that works for everyone.

A mayor needs to be able to step into other people’s shoes. They need to be able to work with people they disagree with, to communicate with the public, and to ensure they are always working to the benefit of the taxpayer.

3) What is “Your” issue? What is the one thing you want to accomplish during your term as mayor?

If you had asked me on the day I announced my candidacy for mayor, I would have said sustainable growth and development in our beautiful, burgeoning city. We are bursting at the seams, and we need to ensure we are doing so thoughtfully, with more than a day-by-day approach. We need strategy for the next few decades and beyond. This is something I have heard over and over leading up to my announcement, and still feel it’s a massive challenge moving forward.

However, throughout this campaign and extensive research, I’ve been confronted with a concern: Less so what we need to change, as how we make change happen at City Hall. Over the last 4 years, we have seen an increase in closed meetings by more than 33%, making discussions around accountability and transparency near-impossible. We have seen private consultation take priority over the citizens of Guelph around issues like parkland. Most recently too, we have seen the incumbent running preferred candidates in each ward, indicating a want to tell Guelph how to be run, not listen first.

So, I want to change that. Guelph, I am here to listen, and help open the doors of City Hall to be accountable, and help the good work become great work.

Especially in the case of mental health, we are going to enable a citywide approach that does not criminalize crisis, and works with all stakeholders to make sure it’s collaborative. Having police as the first and last line of support in the community is not the long term strategy we need.

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

The most consequential decision of this past term was actually a non-decision. After 14 months of community engagement, including extensive research and consultation, the updated Parkland Dedication By-law was supposed to come to City Council in July, 2018. This 1989 By-law determines how much parkland or cash, developers need to give the City for each subdivision or condo tower they build.

Council was given a heads up about the cumulative impact of these losses by the City Treasurer in May. The Tribune ran an article in advance of the May 7th Committee of the Whole meeting with the headline, “By-law leaves Guelph with lack of green space staff say.”

In the article, journalist Graeme McNaughton highlighted the following:

“The report notes that the downtown parkland fund is“significantly underfunded” for purchasing the desired downtown parklands by 2022. While the downtown secondary plan identified $4.3 million in funds needed by then, the account currently has just under $613,000.”

The treasurer’s warning went unheeded and the losses continue to pile up.

When you think that there are currently 22 active planning applications in front of the City, thecost of t he delay of this By-law will no doubt continue to climb and be a direct financial loss for the City.

The worst thing is that this is actually not just about the money. Rapid intensification is increasing pressure on our existing parks since we’re adding more people, but not more land.

We are not just shortchanging current residents, but future generations who will be left a legacy of a City without adequate green space.

5) Part of the role of mayor is to be an ambassador for Guelph. How would you “sell” Guelph? What are the city’s best assets?

Our citizens are our best assets, by far. I am constantly impressed with the warmth and thoughtfulness of our community, whether it be at our libraries, our stores and restaurants, our university, or on our very sidewalks.

We have a city of authors, business leaders, researchers, environmental trendsetters, the list goes on. So when you ask, how would I sell Guelph, the process stays the same for everything else I want to accomplish – listen to the community, and share what I hear. We have always been a trendsetter, and sharing all of the ways we are ahead of the curve is going to do exactly that. In past years, Guelph has also been named as Canada’s most “caring” City, largely as a result of our very high level of volunteerism. To most, this comes as little surprise.

So, rather than “sell” Guelph, I want to make sure that our greatness is highlighted anywhere and everywhere, while also equally enjoyed by all citizens. Life in Guelph is also becoming unaffordable for many, and this impacts seniors, low-income earners, and young people the most. With it, it’s important to recognize how much work that entails. During this term of Council, Guelph plummeted in the MoneySense Magazine ratings year after year, dropping from 15th in 2015 to 32nd in 2016, 74th in 2017 and finally dropping out of the top 100 altogether at 128th this year. Keeping us attractive means addressing the sore spots while we also praise the good parts.

6) Should the mayor take transit to set an example for council, city staff and citizens, even it it’s part-time?

I really like the idea that Council would take transit, and I know that two Councillors participated in a transit challenge a number of years ago launched by local anti-poverty activist Sian Matwey.

It was a learning experience for all involved. Good for you Sian!

City Council is not a 9 – 5 job, and for the Mayor, it can involve travelling all over the City to attend events. I think I would need to look at bus travel on a day by day basis, depending on the daily schedule of meetings and off-site events. The problem is that our transit system is no longer a reliable way of getting people where they need to go.

Actually riding the buses, even part-time, would give members of Council and the Mayor a front seat view of the challenges transit riders face every day. If Council can’t step into the shoes of citizens, who are they serving?

Early in this last term, Guthrie and others voted to save money by hacking away at bus service.

Luckily, it was voted down by the people who see value in transit that sit on Council. We need a transit system that works for everyday citizens.

7) Growth in Guelph: are we managing it well? Are we trying to do too much? Should we be doing more?

We are not managing growth well. We need to be planning for decades, not months as has been done. For instance, when it comes to parkland, it seems we are not even following our own official plan; We are vastly under-collecting land and cash for parks and only a fraction of the parkland needed for the population projections for Clair-Maltby has been anticipated. The citizens of Guelph deserve better than this.

As Mayor, I would champion creating a parkland dashboard so that we can clearly see that we are meeting our Official Plan requirements for parkland as the City grows. We claim to be a “green city” and we need to live in accordance with it. I would like to see annual reporting on land acquired and cash-in-lieu received, as well as public reporting on how our Parkland funds are being spent, among other things.

8) How can the mayor address issues of poverty in Guelph?

Lobbying higher levels of government on poverty issues is not enough. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario says, “Ontario is the only province in Canada where public housing is a municipal responsibility.” I agree that housing is too heavy a burden for municipalities to be carrying alone, but we need to work within the current reality, not engage in wishful thinking and pass the buck.

There has been an absence of leadership in tackling local poverty issues. This last budget did not include money for affordable housing – at this rate, we will never be able to build.

The key areas to tackle are housing and transportation. These are what gobble up most household budgets.

Housing:

a) Where is the leadership to create rent-geared-to-income social housing on City-owned land? We currently own the Baker St. property which is slated for development. The Kitchener Public library is now incorporating housing into its site. We need to explore the same opportunity for our new Central Library.

b) How do we generate more housing stock? Council candidate Charlene Downey made a great point at Council last week when she pointed out that many Guelphites are blocked from creating accessory apartments because of the lack of parking. Let’s have a robust community conversation about how we can crack that nut. Could permit parking in residential areas allow non-driving tenants to access these apartments without the risk of opening the door to more parking congestion?

c) How do we support affordable housing at the local level? During the 2018 budget deliberations, Mayor Guthrie voted against allocating a proposed $322,900 to an
affordable housing incentive program. Moreover, in another vote, he supported removing the annual base budget for affordable housing and awarding it to the neighbourhood support coalition. We shouldn’t be compromising one public benefit to fund another.

A key piece linked to housing, jobs and traffic and parking congestion is transit. We need properly funded frequent and reliable transit. Period.

9) What relationship is more important: southwestern Ontario mayors working as a group to deal with the provincial and federal governments collectively, or one-on-one relationships between Guelph and higher levels of government?

I don’t think this is an either/or situation. Collaboration with other southwestern mayors gives us more clout as a group and allows us to see the bigger picture. However, we need to go up the chain of command for Guelph-specific issues too – we don’t exist in a vacuum.

Truth is, municipal government is an extension of the provincial, and with the current leadership, we need to make sure those lines of communication are open. We need leadership that prioritizes our community, and doesn’t pander. We need firm, fair leadership that listens.

10) 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)

That’s an easy decision, and it’s political.

The toughest decision I recently had to make was whether or not to run for a Ward 6 Council seat or challenge our incumbent Mayor.

I enjoyed being a candidate in the Provincial Election and I am truly grateful for the vote from the near-14,000 Guelphites who voted for me. If people were ready to see me as their MPP, I hope they will have the same confidence in what I can offer as Mayor.

Given my expanding interest in political life, the obvious next step was to consider a run for a Council seat in Ward 6 where I currently live. However, as the nomination period dragged on, Cam Guthrie remained uncontested.

Even though personally, the odds are more difficult for me in a mayoral race as opposed to a ward race, I did not want to see acclamation. Yes, his values oppose my own, but the lack of a mayoral campaign and debates would have been a blow to our local democracy. Progressive voters deserved an option.

The approval of the Clair-Maltby Secondary Plan was the moment that crystallized my resolve to throw my hat in the ring. Where was the vision and values for the vibrant, compact urban design which would incorporate leading-edge environmental principles? I hope to offer that vision and those values to the citizens of Guelph.

11) 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?

Unforeseen budget crunches are exactly the reason the City maintains a Tax Rate Stabilization Reserve. It’s essentially a rainy-day fund we use to avoid unforeseen jumps in taxes which would cause hardship for citizens. Unlike the Federal and Provincial governments, Municipal governments in Ontario aren’t allowed to run deficits, so we really do have to manage our finances responsibly.

The problem is there’s a temptation for politicians to engage in sleight of hand with this fund.

It’s no accident that $670,000 was taken out of the Tax Rate Stabilization Reserve for the 2018 budget to keep the last tax increase before the election under 3%. Cosmetically, it might look good to voters, but the average person doesn’t realize it’s come at the expense of our depleted savings.

https://www.guelphmercury.com/news-story/7982308-guelph-councillors-approve-budget-with-2-95-tax-increase/

We need to keep a healthy balance in this fund and only use it when it’s absolutely necessary.

12) What’s the biggest issue facing Guelph in the next term of council? What about the next 10 years?

Key updates are coming forward this next term of Council: the update of the Parkland Dedication By-law: an update of the By-law which decides how much Development Charges are paid by developers and an update to Our Official Plan.

Our much longed-for new central library will be on the budget agenda in 2019. Voters need to keep in mind that the library is not a done deal. While the Mayor appears to have experienced a pre-election conversion on the importance of this project, many of his political allies on Council continued to speak against it, even while voting in favour of the Library Business Case. It was a smart decision in front of a full gallery. There’s always a chance to kill the library in the 2019 budget process if a conservative voting majority is elected.

At a yet-to-be-determined date in 2020/2021, the integrity and security of our local elections will be on the line. Cam Guthrie is promising to bring back internet voting for the 2022 municipal election. There’s no question that internet voting is convenient and highly accessible. The key problem is that it isn’t secure. After the robocall scandal of 2011 when simple phone technology was used to suppress the vote, Guelphites are rightly sensitive about electoral fraud in our community.

Citizens who spoke courageously to accessibility concerns during the internet voting debate raised our awareness that accessibility is not a one-size-fits-all matter. While people with physical disabilities need wheelchair ramps and automatic doors, some disabilities are less visible. Public voting may be challenging for some individuals with autism or social anxiety.

We need to continue to explore tailor-made options like a travelling ballot booths or having election officials attend people’s homes. Continued input from the accessibility community can guide us to solutions that will ensure our democracy is both secure and accessible.

In terms of the next decade, the biggest issue facing Guelph is protecting our groundwater.

Prolonged drought in other parts of the world brought on by accelerating climate change has dropped aquifers to never-before-seen levels. We cannot be complacent about our water supply.

It is under threat from water bottling, contamination from the Dolime quarry and overdevelopment of our section of the Paris-Galt Moraine which sits within the Clair-Maltby secondary plan.

If tax increases are your pet peeve, you need to pay close attention to this issue. The financial consequences of mismanaging our water will be astronomical. While the price tag of drilling a new municipal well is in the millions of dollars, a pipeline to Lake Erie will be in the billions.

Those costs will land directly on your property tax bill.

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

To view my full platform and bio visit: www.aggieforguelph.ca
Find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @akmlynarz
Shoot us an email to aggie@aggieforguelph.ca
Or come stop by the office right across from City Hall at 30 Carden Street

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