CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE – Erin Caton, Ward 1 Councillor

“Since moving to Guelph, I have run into a variety of issues like missing sidewalks, unsafe trail crossings, poor cycling infrastructure, dangerous driving and more. As a seasoned project manager, I am a problem solver and I really enjoy helping people.”

Why are you running for city council?

My daughter and I chose Guelph three years ago out of over a dozen cities near Toronto so I could be close to my medical specialists, and live near the programmers I contract for my food/tech startup. It’s an amazing city, full of green space, with a diverse and creative community who really looks out for one another. It’s a very special city.

Since moving to Guelph, I have run into a variety of issues like missing sidewalks, unsafe trail crossings, poor cycling infrastructure, dangerous driving and more. As a seasoned project manager, I am a problem solver and I really enjoy helping people. I know I’m not the only one who is frustrated by these situations. I was appointed by council to the Accessibility Advisory Committee of Guelph to help in an official capacity last year, so I’m aware of the inside roadblocks to getting things fixed.

I also volunteer with the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition and advocate for people with environmental sensitivities regarding property standards and accessibility so I know there’s a lot I could do more effectively if I was on council. Making systems efficient, inclusive, safe and affordable is what I’m good at, and I’d love to use those skills to make our city a better place. I’ve had long interactions with the city and not as many issues resolved as I’d like.

I’d love to be a part of the solution to remove bottlenecks and make city staff’s jobs easier.

Tell us a bit about your background and experience, and how that will inform the way you work as a city councillor?

I have had a vast career managing departments and products in successful tech companies like Apple and Blastradius (on the Electronic Arts account), with large budgets and many moving pieces. I’m incredibly skilled at incorporating multiple levels of feedback and priorities to ensure we are building the best product possible that fits everyone’s needs.

I run a volunteer coalition and my own businesses. I know there’s no way to please everyone but can manage trade-offs in a way that doesn’t compromise environmental, accessibility and financial values. By balancing the residents’, city’s and developers’ needs, and facilitating negotiations so that we are designing Guelph’s growth as a team, I am confident I can lead us towards creative solutions that satisfy everyone’s requirements.

I learned these skills by working my way up in the tech industry across many jobs, as well as through my Project Management Institute (PMI) education at the University of British Columbia and I deeply feel that people in all levels need to be included if you want to build something great. I am a homeowner and a single parent so I know how to make sure everyone is living their best lives while staying on a budget.

In my youth, I relied on social services and food banks, so I appreciate the importance of helping people through hard times and making a city livable and affordable for everyone. I have lived a lot of lives and I know I can represent everyone equally because I can use that experience and consult with people to give them the help they want, not the help I think they need. I want to do this job because I’m actually qualified for it.

I have the knowledge and experience to make good decisions, and won’t be basing my votes on assumptions and expectations (unlike others who have filled this role).

What do you think was the most consequential decision made by city council during the 2018-2022 term?

Choosing not to buy the Yorklands reformatory property from the province in 2019 was the most consequential decision for Ward 1 and a big mistake. I don’t understand how buying real estate that already has utility connections was considered risky when land has gone up consistently in price for as long as I can remember. Housing prices in Guelph have risen significantly since then and have only slightly come back down. Even with the soil remediation and heritage renovation costs, I’m sure we could have found developers who were interested in a vision like the innovation district. We could have made a lot of money for the city to offset costs of developments like St. Clair-Maltby, which are being pushed forward (instead of the Innovation district at Yorklands) by a lot of the same developers who made donations to municipal campaigns in the 2018 election.

So instead of having full control over beautiful heritage buildings and parkland that could be used to house eco-industries, museums, maker spaces, local creator markets and food non-profits, we are in the situation where we need to designate the buildings as heritage sites and negotiate with developers. There are a lot of things we can still do to influence the layout and content so that it closely resembles the innovation district approved in 2014, and see if developers are open to making the residences eco-friendly and accessible to all disabilities so anyone can live there and people can age in place. It is going to be much harder to accomplish, however, and we lost out on a huge amount of money in the process.

We need more transparency on the history of decisions made on properties like these. It’s easy to see why people feel there are no honest politicians when many of these matters are made in closed session meetings. A public timeline of votes, outcomes and consequences would be not only helpful to residents, but also for staff and council members so that we do not repeat past mistakes.

Guelph has to make accommodation for 208,000 people and have 116,000 jobs ready by 2051. What’s your growth strategy, and how will you co-ordinate with developers, neighbourhoods and community groups to achieve it?

We need affordable, green, accessible housing. I would approve higher density developments within existing service areas infill rather than expanding on the city border. These areas need less environmental impact reports and do not cost the city as much to hook up to utilities. I would make a motion for new buildings to be accessible to multiple types of disabilities and have many more options so all people can live here and people can age in place, rather than having to move to LTC homes.

We have many companies in Guelph who do green architecture, create VOC-free finishings, and healthier exterior and interior construction materials. I would coordinate with these groups as well as developers to create plans that bring Guelph forward on our environmental goals. Buildings that use green energy sources, water capture systems and have a large percentage of rent-geared-to-income rental units would get developer fee discounts.

With higher density areas, green space is very important. I would coordinate with Guelph’s extensive gardening community and non-profits to create both pollinator and community gardens so that people living in apartments have options to grow their own foods. We also need to ensure that our public transit is up to par for the needs of a community of that size.

This should also encourage more companies who create inclusive building materials, accessible industries and green technologies to start up in Guelph. There is a non-profit organization who is trying to make a Science Centre in Guelph and I would encourage groups like them to build with incentives as not only would they create jobs, but it would help with tourism and bring in new money for the existing businesses.

I would make a motion for new buildings to be accessible to all of our community members. For example, If we plan to accommodate individuals with multiple types of disabilities from the beginning, we will create barrier-free buildings that provide everyone with options. We all deserve this flexibility. Future projects should be built with the community in mind, where people can age in place, rather than having to move to LTC homes. Inclusivity benefits us all and is good for business. I am interested in making impactful changes that will support long term, substantial growth for Guelph.

We have many companies in Guelph who do green architecture, create VOC-free finishings, and healthier exterior and interior construction materials. I would coordinate with these groups as well as developers to create plans that bring Guelph forward on our environmental goals. Buildings that use green energy sources, water capture systems and have a large percentage of rent-geared-to-income rental units would get developer fee discounts.

With higher density areas, green space is very important. I would coordinate with Guelph’s extensive gardening community and non-profits to create both pollinator and community gardens so that people living in apartments have options to grow their own foods. We also need to ensure that our public transit is up to par for the needs of a community of that size. We require many more accessible buses, bus routes, express lanes and consistency than we have now. We are growing quickly and if we intend on being carbon neutral, reducing parking and providing a great city to live in, we need to invest in public transit.

This should also encourage more companies who create inclusive building materials, accessible industries and green technologies to start up in Guelph. There is a non-profit organization who is trying to make a Science Centre in Guelph and I would encourage groups like them to build with incentives as not only would they create jobs, but it would help with tourism and bring in new money for the existing businesses. Inclusivity benefits us all and is good for business. I am interested in making impactful changes that will support long term, substantial growth for Guelph.

Homelessness and the mental health and addiction crises are having a profound impact on Guelph, what can be done at a council level to address these issues, and what will you do as an individual councillor to address them?

As a unified council, we should push back on the province and create a coalition of city councils who demand the province fund accessible, low income housing. We need to insist that they raise social service incomes like the Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works. We also must petition them to pay for mental health programs and properly fund healthcare so people actually have options. Council can work with the Federal government, Wellington County and local poverty groups to help fund local housing initiatives.

I would motion that we create tax incentives for developers who build rent-geared-to-income housing, and that we give property tax rebates to homeowners who rent to people who use social services. Many groups are providing services to help these populations in lieu of the province doing their job; council can support them. I would move for motions to help fund their work, shifting around funds from other city services that would be freed up by the results of helping that community improve their lives.

Would you support a more collaborative relationship between the City of Guelph and the County of Wellington? What would that look like?

This is a necessary move. The County of Wellington handles low income housing in Guelph, The City of Guelph handles property standards and the fire department handles electrical hazards due to leaks. As one group cannot resolve all of these issues, I strongly support a collaboration.

From first hand experience a year and a half ago helping the residents of 141 Woolwich Street, I can attest the current system results in a game of hot potato, passing the buck back and forth on who needs to take responsibility to resolve the issue at hand. The building that the residents of a non-profit housing property lived in was riddled with mold, there were used needles in stairwells, and an epic proportion of water leaks.

The people living on the property were getting sick from the conditions, which affected their ability to work, and those who were on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) were developing even more disabilities. It wasn’t safe for adults or kids who lived there. There were a lot of pieces of the puzzle owned by Wellington County and a lot by the City of Guelph. Plus provincial issues and more than one municipal group. If we operate in silos, we create huge service lags and force things into the landlord and tenant board, which has a massive backlog. We need to work together.

The County of Wellington and City of Guelph desperately need to work collaboratively. We need to outline common scenarios and create action plans outlining who is responsible for resolving it so that people aren’t left in limbo while governments argue about jurisdiction.

How would you increase accessibility at city hall? How will you make sure that your constituents feel well-informed and well-represented in council?

I am committed to making motions to use accessible technology, and voting methods. Staff are on board with many newer technologies, but we need to get votes in council to push them forward.

I will have a ward 1 website, video updates, email newsletters and online town halls. I will post on social media in advance of meetings about topics so everyone can weigh in. I am active and responsive on social media, email, video chat and phone.

People should be able to pre-record a video delegation so they can have their thoughts heard at council meetings without having to wait potentially hours and sit through irrelevant discussion. We should also have the option to be texted or called when your item is coming up on the agenda. Utilizing an ‘up next’ system auto dialer like restaurants have would free up staff from this task but also make it easier to delegate.

We should have a four hour maximum for meetings, and have more than one meeting a month to make up for longer agendas. Staff and residents currently have no washroom or food breaks during the most common meal time of the day. These are all motions I would put forward. As a project manager, I have run efficient meetings for two decades. These changes would allow more people to participate and streamline discussion.

I would also listen to the equity lead and staff recommendations to have slightly earlier meetings so that people who work shifts can participate as delegates. How can we expect to be successful at improving the systems that impact voters’ lives, if we continue to host inefficient and ineffective delegations?

Movements like Black Lives Matter and the discovery of unmarked graves at residential schools have made the creation of more equity and inclusion at city hall a top priority. How will you help promote greater representation and work to create more equity and inclusion at the City of Guelph?

Guelph has existing volunteer, appointed equity committees that they need to consult on projects and developments by provincial law. However they are not required to incorporate the feedback. Valuing the expert advice and lived experience of these groups is step one to a more inclusive city.

One way to elevate their voices would be to give equity groups a chance to submit their own reports to council on topics similar to the heritage reports, rather than it being distilled through the staff report. A lot gets lost in a game of telephone, and we can’t expect people who already volunteer their time to constantly delegate when their needs aren’t being met. This would also lessen the burden on staff. As a member of the Accessibility Advisory Committee, I have witnessed these communication snafu’s first hand.

Councillors should sit in on equity groups meeting at least once. I would be available to do that and let members know they can contact me directly with any questions or their concerns. You don’t just represent your ward as a city councillor, you represent Guelph.

I would also encourage the city to collaborate with non-profit groups like Guelph Pride, The Black Heritage Society, Anishnabeg Outreach, and others to see what the city can do to support their work. You can’t create a plan for a group you are not a part of. You have to design it with them leading the conversation and valuing their input. We are a team and it’s important we all have a say. The community members being impacted by the experiences and consequences of the issue being discussed needs to have a seat at the head of the table when decisions are being made.

The City of Guelph, as a corporation, is responsible for three per cent of emissions locally. What will you do to encourage and assist the Royal City to reach it’s net zero and 100 per cent renewable goals?

As a person and parent of a child with environmental sensitivities I have an immediate need for good air, water and soil quality – so I have a lot to say on this topic. As the Chair of the Environmental Sensitivities Coalition of Canada, this is a subject I know a lot about. I can definitely help Guelph exceed our green goals and be a model city others follow for green plans.

Green developments with LEED certification, build materials accessible to those with environmental sensitivities (which are also low to no emission), plus alternative energy and roof water collection systems/filtration for all new developments are keys to reaching these goals. I would facilitate discussions with the city and developers and make incentive plans that intersect with federal and provincial programs to encourage these future forward developments.

Similarly, we need to build up instead of sprawling outward so we can house more people without compromising our parkland. If we carefully plan buildings to take up less land, we can avoid having to cut down established trees which clean the air and lessen ground temperatures. To aid with higher densities, I would urge planners to include community gardens and plant fruit trees in city parks that our many local non-profits could use to help feed people having a hard time.

I would make a motion to plant wildflowers on boulevards instead of grass, which means no gas is needed to mow, and maintenance staff can be dedicated to other green initiatives.
Creating carpool, bus and taxi lanes on our main four lane streets would encourage people to use environmentally friendly transportation, and lessen car emissions. It would also help our transit times and allow us to have express buses so that people can get to their destination faster. Safer bike lanes to encourage emission free transit would also help us reach our goal.

I have innovative ideas like dryer sheet bans (they are single use plastics) as they create endless landfill, generate formaldehyde when heated (a carcinogen) and release acetalehyde and benzene, plus numerous other pollutants commonly found in vehicle exhaust into the air. They are also an accessibility barrier to people with environmental sensitivities like asthma, those who get migraines and the 30% of the population who reacts badly to perfumes. They are unnecessary and people can use dryer balls instead, which ultimately saves a lot of money on laundry.

I would also encourage people to switch to unscented laundry detergents, which emit chemicals such as acetaldehyde, acetone, ethanol, α-pinene, linalool, and D-limonene, contributing to air pollution and adverse health. Numerous studies show this to be true, here is one example. As we recently learned our rain water contains pollutants, we need to be doing all we can. Guelph’s main water supply is reliant on rain. I would ensure the City of Guelph doesn’t use products that contribute to air and water pollution, which would increase our accessibility as well.

I would also motion that the city challenge the University of Guelph to create a natural solution to the portable toilets which contain all the same chemicals as dryer sheets and scented laundry, and make an accessible, green composting toilet that we can have open year round in parks. I would motion we offer a business start up prize using the budget we’d normally set aside for emptying and maintaining portable toilets and encourage start up focused nonprofits, and federal groups to add to the prize. This would create a whole new industry and open up jobs in Guelph as well. We could lead the charge on environmental innovation if I had the opportunity to use my knowledge and experience on council.

These are a few drops in the bucket of green innovations I can think up, but I’m almost at the length where I need to write chapter titles so I will spare the readers at this time. 🙂

Excluding 2-way/all-day GO Train service, how would you work to expand regional transit options to and from Guelph?

I would work with our surrounding municipalities like Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, Fergus, Elora and Rockwood to make a plan for electric commuter bus transit so that we could create a network for people not only to get from home to work and back, but also be local tourists on the weekend.

When I lived in San Francisco, the larger tech companies like Apple (where I worked) hired Greyhound style bus companies to shuttle employees back and forth during common daytime work hours. I’m confident that if we worked together with the neighbouring cities, and businesses, we could do something similar, which would lessen traffic congestion, emissions and take away the stress of having to constantly drive up to two hours a day. I know I appreciated being able to use my commute to work on projects, which cut down on the time I needed to be in the office. Everyone should have that opportunity.

If you could dedicate your time on city council to one issue over the next four years, like you were a federal or provincial cabinet minister, what would that be, and why?

It’s not an exciting answer, but as a long standing project and product manager, I would really love to tackle process inefficiencies in how we get things done municipally. I realize we are subject to various provincial and federal regulations, but there’s still way more that could be done to get things done faster and cheaper. So many issues pop up like overspending and schedule issues on the police station and people seem surprised they happened. It makes me wonder about how many risk and mitigation plans are being made for these plans.

In my tech jobs, I was often hired for project forensics to investigate where things had gone off the rails and how to get them back on track. I’d be thrilled to focus on that issue. We need more people who are trained in, and good at the boring things on council.

Follow my social media pages to see how I have successfully reduced my costs through my election campaign, efficiently using my donations, and standing by commitment to not accept donations from any developers.

It’s budget time: You have a heritage building redevelopment project, the modernization of a key city service, or you can reduce the proposed budget increase by a full percentage point. You can either fund one of these endeavours in their entirety, or you can assign each option a portion of funding. What’s your motion?

I really, really hope no one answers this question without a lot more details, because making decisions without background data is a bad idea. Just on titles alone, there’s no way to know what the fallout of any of that would be. We have enough councillors who show up to vote without reading their information packages as is, which gets us into a lot of messes.

My motion would be for a full report from the heritage committee stating importance of the development and potential compromises; a staff budget report on the risks/impact of modernization of the city service in terms of health, equity, safety, resident costs outside of tax increase, and environmental impact if done/not done; also to find out if there are other budgets that could be modified that have fewer impacts/risks if these two are primarily the most important items in the budget. Planning a city cowboy style, guns ablazing, results in a lot of holes. I cannot play with other people’s money so callously.

Finish this sentence: I would be very disappointed if we got the end of this election without debating…?

The library.

Where can people learn more about you, and your campaign?

www.erinward1.ca
linktr.ee/erincatonward1

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