CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE – Mark MacKinnon, Ward 6 Councillor

“I’d welcome the opportunity to continue serving the residents of Guelph once again because the vital effort governing and guiding the city that I began eight years ago is not yet finished.”

Why are you running for city council?

I’d welcome the opportunity to continue serving the residents of Guelph once again because the vital effort governing and guiding the city that I began eight years ago is not yet finished.

Yes, the city’s finances are solid (even recently upgraded by the S&P credit agency to the highest AAA rating!) and we are well on the path to sustainable infrastructure management after decades of neglect and underfunding by previous Councils, but experience matters as the city pivots to face new inflationary challenges and issues touching upon community inclusion and social wellbeing.

Working closely with Council and staff, my years of guidance as the city’s Chair of Corporate Services and Chair of Public Services has contributed to our community’s stability and success – but there is still much work to be done. I remain confident that the skills, passion, and unique perspectives that I bring to Council will continue to be a valuable asset over these next four years.

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

My scientific and business education and background ensures evidence-based decision making that prioritizes reason and facts over emotion and rhetoric. Furthermore, my 30+ year history in Guelph covers a wide perspective of elements that informs my Council governance: I’m a U of G alumnus, I’ve raised two children from birth to adulthood in south Guelph, I’ve served on numerous committees and boards in the community and beyond – and indeed still serve on the Westminster Woods Mutual Use Committee in Ward 6 – and I’ve owned a popular storefront business in the heart of downtown Guelph (The Boardroom game cafe). I am intimately familiar with both the benefits and challenges living in south Guelph and believe I’m the right choice to continue representing and advocating for Ward 6 residents.

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

I believe Council’s collective decisions over four years to prioritise city-building and service enhancements over affordability is of great consequence for residents. This didn’t result from a single vote one one issue, but rather is the combined effect from decision after decision. Unfortunately, because each individual vote by itself may have seemed like a good idea at the time, yet each had a cumulative effect on tax rates, it has become challenging to stop the affordability snowball effect.

I voted against many of these individual Council decisions – from an oversized new downtown library building (rather than a right-sized building that aligns with funding identified in the Development Charges Background Study) that will add a nearly 0.4% tax levy for 20+ years, to funding provincial responsibilities with municipal tax dollars, to refusing the responsible choice to implement service rationalization recommendations to make city hall operations more effective and efficient – but the will of Council to push forward with these initiatives may result in 4-6% annual tax increases for the foreseeable future.

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?

Personally, I would prefer Guelph to slow down its rate of growth because I think the community is poised for success the way it is at its current size. Since the city is designated for massive intensification by the province under the Places to Grow Act, however, Guelph is required to plan for a significant population growth in a few brief decades. That’s a lot of new people in a short period of time! The city’s robust Growth Management Strategy – which includes active participation by developers, residents, and the business community – will shape Guelph into a people-first community that will attract great residents and businesses from across Canada.

Densification and growth in Ward 6 has long presented challenges to south Guelph residents, especially along the Gordon Street corridor and Clair/Gordon node. This leads to capacity, traffic, and safety concerns that jeopardizes the unity of our community. Growing our city in a responsible way to minimize inconvenience while maximizing availability of housing units – because we all know how difficult and expensive it has become to find a home in Guelph – must be shared amongst all parts of the city and not just in Ward 6.

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?

Tackling these issues involves complex solutions that requires our County, provincial, and federal governments to step up and take commanding roles. The County has been designated by the province as Guelph’s social services provider; they are responsible for supportive housing programmes. Mental health and addictions issues fall under the domain of healthcare, which is legislatively a provincial matter (with federal support). That said, I am proud of the role that Guelph has played in funding and championing multiple supportive housing builds in the city – but our intervention shouldn’t have been needed in the first place. Future Councils will similarly need to use our affordable housing reserve funds and intergovernmental relationships to ensure those experiencing homelessness and mental health issues in our city receive the assistance they need.

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

I am very supportive of the City and County working more closely in the future. Now that the Guelph Mayor is (finally) back on the County’s Social Services Committee, our once-fractured relationship is well on the way to creating solutions that work for residents across our city. Council’s decision during this last term to tap into the County staff’s expertise to manage and approve affordable housing funding requests on Guelph’s behalf from community organizations and developers has proved to be an effective and efficient process. I expect that the next term of Council will continue exploring other ways our two municipal governments can collaborate as well.

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

The recently completed ward boundary review provides greater population representation in its elected officials – a vital realignment since Ward 6 has absorbed much of the population growth in the past two decades, which lead to imbalance. We clearly can’t wait another 30+ years until the next ward boundary review! Furthermore, it is imperative that Councillors be widely accessible to residents on social media, email, and phone – and I am committed to maintaining this eight-year relationship with the community if I am re-elected.

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?

The 2022 revisions to Guelph’s Community Plan is a solid foundation on which the city can build inclusion and representation. Council approved the creation of a new staff position (senior advisor of Equity, Anti-Racism, and Indigenous Initiatives), which aligns perfectly with Council’s commitment to making the community and workplace more inclusive. Additionally, Council and staff should continue its workshops and discussions that we started during this previous term to help us all better understand systemic racism, examine how it affects the local community, and explore ways the city and Council can help break down barriers to inclusion in Guelph.

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?

The city’s Community Energy Initiative is Guelph’s commitment to use and manage energy differently and better than we have in the past. Although the city’s corporate operations has its own targets – such as being powered by 100% renewable energy by 2050 – the CEI also presents emission targets for the entire community. The city is committed to working with the community in a multi-pronged approach – education, partnerships, incentives, and mandates – to ensure that Guelph remains an environmental leader in the coming decades.

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

The city does not have the financial nor operational capacity to address inter-regional transit on its own. These solutions lie with the province, such as GO Transit, and with the business community, such as VIA Rail, Voyago’s GOST (Guelph Owen Sound Transportation), and FlixBus. Council needs to focus on supporting residents with a city-wide revitalisation under the 10-year Guelph Transit Future Ready Action Plan before it should look at tackling costly inter-regional transit.

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?

If you had asked me this question during my first term on Council, I would have undoubtedly mentioned our need for responsible and sustainable funding for our city’s infrastructure needs. With tireless advocacy and bold vision, Council has made tremendous progress on these asset management needs in just a few short years. I’ve been the Chair of the Public Services Committee for the past two years, and I have made it a priority to help address issues of equity and accessibility in my leadership role.

I would like to continue the work I started to enhance the affordable bus pass into a TRULY affordable bus pass that Council approved as a pilot in 2022. Under this programme, residents most in need can qualify for a monthly bus pass for as low as $4. I envision this bus pass transforming into a “community pass” that opens a wide range of city services to those residents living on low incomes – and hopefully even invites local businesses and organisations to participate as well. Working with staff and Council, I believe that my background and experience are ideally suited to champion such worthwhile initiatives.

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?

Of course, that’s a difficult question to answer without knowing the specifics of such a hypothetical decision. Improving critical city services – whether it’s transit, parks and recreation, snow ploughing, waste collection, and more – is a priority for many residents who use these services regularly. Since maintaining affordability is also important, I would work with staff to explore if the service improvement could be phased in over multiple years to reduce the strain on the tax rate, like Council has recently done with the 10-year Guelph Transit Future Ready Action Plan. If we can strike the right balance between service and affordability, residents will come out ahead every time.

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

The affordability and inflationary constraints on our capital and operating dollars. Although Council has made tremendous strides returning the city’s finances to responsible and sustainable levels over these past two terms, maintaining existing and backlogged infrastructure and building new parks, trails, roads, and facilities is becoming increasingly more costly.

Council and staff will be faced with difficult choices and will need to reprioritise where critical capital and operating tax dollars are spent. After all, city residents cannot absorb massive tax increases to offset the anticipated inflationary cost overruns of projects across the city. It’s time to rethink how Guelph is going to thrive and grow under this new inflation.

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

Twitter: @mark4ward6
Phone: 519-829-5137

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