CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE – Leanne Caron, Ward 5 Councillor

“My ear to the ground is hearing that citizens are worried about the impacts of growth, such as affordability, traffic, water, climate change, community safety, etc. The current council is making progress on these issues, but there is much more to be done to ensure our post-CoVID city reaches its full potential.”

Why are you running for city council?

First and foremost, I’m running for the residents of Ward 5. “What is the city but the people?” (Shakespeare). Everyone I meet loves this city. It is inevitable that our city will grow and evolve, but we must keep an eye on the impact of our decisions – for today and future generations. My ear to the ground is hearing that citizens are worried about the impacts of growth, such as affordability, traffic, water, climate change, community safety, etc. The current council is making progress on these issues, but there is much more to be done to ensure our post-CoVID city reaches its full potential. I want to finish what I started on issues and projects still underway, such as climate resilience, Baker District, our main branch library, parks and trails, and multi-year budgeting.

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

I have worked in the public, private and non-profit sector, and understand the value of hard work and leading a team. I have been a community volunteer for decades (see my website for a list). was first elected as an Upper Grand DSB trustee and currently 4-term city councillor. I was raised just outside Arkell, went away for school (McMaster University, then MA (Leadership) at UoG) and lived in Ward 5 for 25 years.

As a working mom of four kids, I learned how to make ends meet and juggle multiple priorities. And as sole caregiver to aging parents, I have navigated the healthcare system during CoVID, long-term care challenges and living on a pension. As a middle child, I have a well-honed knack for collaboration and consensus-building. During my Masters (Leadership) my research focused on municipal government representation. These experiences have shaped me to understand that city councillors need to be able listen and learn from diverse voices in the community. Then we make decisions that best serve the city as a whole over the long term.

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

By far, our decision to endorse Net Zero by 2050 and the United Nations Race to Zero initiative was transformative, because it has so many far-reaching interconnected impacts. It will guide our infrastructure replacement, lower our energy costs, spark economic investment, improve air and water quality and leave a livable city for our next generation. It was a strategic move intended to kick-start our Community Energy Initiative. It was bold, but essential. Our future prosperity depends on it.

The investment over 30 years is $3.2 billion, but will result in savings and revenue of 4.9 billion by 2050. Every year we stall, costs continue to rise. It was one of those council moments where we came together and did something amazing that some of us might not be around to see … that’s leadership. A close second is approving the Baker District, which will transform our downtown.

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?

My growth strategy is focused on balance. Our new Official Plan and Zoning By-law are all about balancing the desire to preserve what we value (greenspaces, rivers and parks, excellence in design, heritage, etc.) while adding density, jobs and public infrastructure. Right now, the housing availability/affordability crisis is immediate. But it’s not appropriate or wise to simply “build, build, build” without a plan for how we will pay for it and how our city will look and function years from now.

I’m not a typical “politician” in that I won’t make a decision based on what will get me re-elected every few years. Long-term thinking, strategic investments and evidence-based decisions are essential to the prosperity of our city over the long haul. Developers and home-builders are our partners and I know they want to build a quality city along with us. From my experience, when developers sit down and collaborate with neighbours/community groups, we achieve better results. Some good examples in Ward 5 are the Kortyards rental apartments, and Bristol Street infill. I am hoping we can achieve a similar positive outcome for 785 Gordon (Days Inn) and the Victoria & Macalister neighbourhood.

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?

The causes (and solutions) are complex and not unique to Guelph. Yet we can’t ignore the impact on our community, and the real life suffering of those needing support. Council cannot solve the root causes of homelessness and mental health/addiction, and we cannot turn a blind eye and hope that other levels of government will step up. We know that stable, safe housing is foundational. Here’s what we can do at a local level:

a) fund outreach workers in the downtown to direct access to services

b) incentivize and provide grants to supportive housing projects, such as Stepping Stones and Kindle Communities

c) support early intervention and community-based programs directly to neighbourhoods in need (through the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, Onward Willow, etc.)

d) encourage more alternative-to-policing community safety programs and resources, such as Welcoming Streets, and the Community Paramedicine program e) strong advocacy with other levels of government for increasing ODSP, co-op and social housing funding, and mental health prevention and treatment. As an individual councillor, I will continue to do all of the above, as I have throughout my previous terms.

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

Yes, no hesitation. Our past and our futures are linked.

1. Increase communication. We have common goals for our residents and need to create a positive working environment where we can openly discuss concerns and ideas. I propose a city-county working group consisting of senior admin and elected officials to establish joint strategic priorities for the next term of our respective councils.

2. Update shared funding and governance agreements. Once the working group is established, let’s sit down and talk about updating our contractual agreements for social services and land ambulance to make sure they reflect the needs of each partner.

3. Collaborative economic development and tourism strategies and initiatives. We all benefit from a thriving regional economy. It’s time to expand our transit system to service county employment areas, and access to local food, farms and tourism. I am really excited about our circular food economy initiative as an example.

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 have a long history of direct outreach with Ward 5 residents and that will continue. I was the 2nd councillor in the city’s history (Ian Findlay was the 1st) to have a website and social media platforms to engage directly with the Ward 5 community. Along with my wardmate, I hold frequent town halls, publish a regular newsletter, publish surveys, coffee chats, emails, online chats, phone calls, attend neighbourhood meetings, and have an exemplary council attendance record. I love to be out and about in the community listening to concerns and ideas of how to improve our city.

I will also continue to advocate for new technology-based initiatives to improve accessibility and customer service at City Hall. A great example is the use of our Have Your Say web engagement platform. On the city building side of things, every public space in on track to be accessible to all. We need to identify current gaps through the Accessibility Advisory Committee and give priority to areas of the city where barriers exist.

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?

We’ve come a long way, but there is more work to do. I have been involved in the Municipal Campaign School to encourage a more diverse pool of municipal candidates. I brought forward a motion to Council last term to include Indigenous consultation in our net zero planning, and I am committed to seek meaningful and sustained relationships with Indigenous communities and organizations, to work collaboratively towards equitable, accessible, and culturally relevant and responsive services for Indigenous children, youth, and families (TRC Call to Action 66).

Diversity is sometimes invisible — religion, gender and sexual orientation, ability, age, income, family status, education, etc. I am very proud that this past term of Council added our very first Senior Policy Advisor, Equity, Anti-Racism & Indigenous Initiatives. I look forward to her recommendations. We are working to add more diverse voices to our boards, committees and work force. We need to address hate crime and address the roots of disproportionate use of force in policing. And finally, let’s celebrate more! Events, communications, and social media are great tools to tell the stories within our community and only makes us stronger.

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 one of the movers of the motion, I strongly support our Net Zero and 100% Renewables pathway and Community Energy Initiative (CEI). We have a plan to get there, which will require significant investment in retrofitting buildings, electric vehicles, net zero transit, power generation through renewables (ie. solar rooftops) and better urban design to provide carbon sequestration and groundwater recharge. I further support incentivizing developers and all new publicly-supported housing to build net zero at time of construction. It is all proven technology working elsewhere, and the cost is dropping. Our CEI investment is net-positive, yielding annual savings (and cleaner environment) for decades beyond 2050. Further, I would strengthen our relationship with groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, eMerge, Innovation Guelph, and the Green Energy &Technology Centre – all local organizations who share our net zero goal.

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

I would focus on connections to Elora, Fergus, Rockwood, Aberfoyle, Hamilton and K-W Cambridge. Each of these areas are employment centres that can be further connected to other local transit systems, such as Grand River Transit. A regular Guelph Transit bus to Aberfoyle GO could then connect with Milton, Hamilton and London. Improving regional transit options means less cars and traffic on local roads and highways. Regional transit would be high priority on the agenda of a city-county working group as described above, and enhance our relationship with the County of Wellington.

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?

I would focus on preparing our city for rising energy costs and reducing the impact of climate change (more storms, floods, fuel shortages, etc). See Question # 9 above. The reason is simple – affordability.

This election, we are talking a lot about affordable housing. But we are not talking enough about the skyrocketing cost of utility bills, on top of rent or mortgage. Or the cost of our transportation systems (cars and transit) as fossil fuel prices rise. Or the cost of food as farmers depend on fuel to plant, harvest and transport products to market). Or intermittent shortages due to pressure on the provincial grid. Local energy adaptation, generation and storage is core to our future economic prosperity.

We’ve done it before – wood to coal, coal to oil, oil to gas, gas to renewables. Humans are a very innovative and adaptive species. We cannot let politics get in the way. We are supposed to enable change, not build walls. The future is already here. The by-product of transforming our local energy grid is a healthier planet. Win-win.

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?

An impossible question, because it depends on the community value and return on investment of the proposed initiative. For example, is the heritage building part of a community hub or economic development & tourism project? Is the new city service going to improve efficiency, customer satisfaction and save money? What services will be cut to reduce the budget by 1%. Every decision we make has impact, short-term and long-term. At budget time, we can’t focus on one single year and defer costs down the road. It will only come back to bite us the next year.

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

Governance. I know, I know…it’s not glamorous or on top of most voter’s minds. But it is foundational to everything we do, every penny we spend, every policy we make. We can’t talk about affordable housing without addressing how supportive, co-operative and social housing is governed and funded. Governance is also about how city hall, council and citizens engage and communicate. Our community needs to know and trust that we are following “the rules” that govern how we conduct business and how we share information and consult with the community. City Hall — and its leaders — must be accessible to all. The word transparency gets used a lot during elections. Governance is how we deliver on transparency.

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

Instagram: @leanneward5
Twitter: @ward5leanne
Facebook: @leannecaron.councillor
Phone: 519-824-3840

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