It’s was April Fool’s Day, but there were some serious issues to discuss on last Thursday’s episode of Open Sources Guelph. Ward 5 City Councillor Cathy Downer appeared on the show to talk about one of the most contentious issues to come to council in all her years around the horseshoe, in-person or virtual, the downtown dining district. Patios were the big part of the conversation, but there were not the only part.
At council last week, the 2021 downtown patio program was approved with the extra step of closing the intersection at Macdonell and Wyndham Streets on weekends only. Downer explained that that it was a complicated balancing act for council managing the wants and needs of all downtown users.
“There were just so many competing interests,” the Ward 5 Councillor explained. “It’s not just about the economics in the downtown, and what’s fair and not fair, there’s transit, there’s city services like garbage, there’s delivery, and then you have a public that used the district last year and overwhelmingly enjoyed it. It brought them downtown to have an experience that they hadn’t had before.”
At the regular meeting Downer proposed an amendment that was adopted by council to make Labour Day the last weekend that roads are closed. Her main thought was about some of Ward 5’s key constituents, the students at the University of Guelph. With half the undergrad population arriving in 2021 having never stepped foot in Guelph, Downer didn’t want to confuse them right off the bat with road and transit detours.
“I just don’t want to frustrate them right out the door, and whether they have passes or not, they’re gonna use transit and they’re gonna use it to get downtown, and some of them live elsewhere in the city too,” Downer explained. “I think it’s it’s important that we allow for that.”
Downer also said that it’s important to hear all the voices, and see all the angles in responding to Mayor Cam Guthrie’s missive before the patio program vote saying that councillors need to do some soul searching to see if they’re really reflecting the will of their communities.
“I thought it was inappropriate,” Downer said. “I just think that council is there to represent everybody, and we all have different points of view and come with our own biases. I thought every single councillor really listened to every different point of view, and some of them landed in different places. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I think that’s healthy.”
Downer also addressed an incident last week where a young woman was harassed while out walking her dog by a man yelling anti-Asian slurs at her. The councillor said that there should be no doubt that racism is alive and well in Guelph. “It’s disappointing and we really need to get to the root of it,” she said. “I heard he received a warning, but without the educational components that go along with that, it’s not going to be very useful in his future.”