CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE – Rodrigo Goller, Ward 2 Councillor

“Over the last four years I have enjoyed connecting with my constituents over coffee, on the phone, via email or at in-person or virtual town-halls, to understand your thoughts and priorities on all important issues coming to Guelph City Council. If I am re-elected, I will continue to provide accessible and accountable leadership in our Ward.”

Why are you running for city council?

I love Guelph. My first term as a City Councillor was both challenging and rewarding, and I would be honoured to earn your vote in this election.

Since being elected as Ward 2 Councillor in 2018, my focus has been on listening to my constituents, understanding your needs and concerns, and advocating for the issues you most care about. While it is important for Councillors to do our homework and understand staff and consultant’s reports, it is equally important for Councillors to speak with Guelph residents and business owners, and consider your thoughts and feedback on all important decisions that will impact our community.

Over the last four years I have enjoyed connecting with my constituents over coffee, on the phone, via email or at in-person or virtual town-halls, to understand your thoughts and priorities on all important issues coming to Guelph City Council. If I am re-elected, I will continue to provide accessible and accountable leadership in our Ward.

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

I’m a longtime Guelphite, a husband, father and home owner in Ward 2. I understand the pressures that Guelph residents face as we see rising food costs at the grocery stores, and work hard to balance the costs of raising a family while paying the rent/mortgages.

I also have an extensive background in community service, having volunteered on the boards of directors of Transition Guelph, the Wellington Water Watchers, the Guelph-Wellington Volunteer Centre (now called the People Information Network – PIN), and more recently, on the boards of the Grand River Conservation Authority, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health and the Downtown Guelph Business Association.

I have been a Rotarian, a Community Engagement Coordinator at the City of Guelph, and I’ve owned a small business in downtown Guelph.

These diverse experiences inform my approach to engage my constituents, listen first, and make sure the decisions we make today will support our shared vision for Guelph as an inclusive, connected, prosperous city where we look after each other and our environment.

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

There were a few milestone decisions in this term of Council. We approved funding for the new Main Branch Library as a cornerstone of the Baker Street development, we approved funding for the long-awaited South-End Recreation Centre, and we approved the Clair-Maltby Secondary Plan.

The Main Branch Library will be a central feature in the redevelopment of Downtown Guelph, bringing thousands of residents to the heart of downtown, and paving the way for Windmill, our development partner to build commercial and residential buildings on the rest of the Baker Street lot. This infusion of residents and library users will significantly increase the number of people who live, visit and shop in our downtown core.

Guelph residents have been waiting for the South-End Recreation Centre for over 20 years. This third large recreation facility in our city will feature a twin pad arena, an aquatic complex, double gym, multi-use program and meeting room spaces, and an indoor walking track and warm-up area. As Guelph grows, the demand for these facilities continues to increase, with many Guelph residents currently having to travel out of town to access these types of indoor recreation services.

The Clair-Maltby Secondary Plan took seven years to develop and it is one of the last significant greenfield additions to Guelph. I voted in favour of approving the Clair-Maltby Secondary plan because it was the will of Council, after having been on the losing side of community advocacy and Council votes to increase the amount of green space and parkland that were included in this Secondary Plan.

I find it frustrating that we only planned for the minimum required amount of parkland in this secondary plan, while we acknowledge that as a City we are falling short of our Official Plan parkland targets. I also find it frustrating that we always allow developers to pave over the maximum allowable amount of land, build ot the maximum heights and use the maximum density, with Council regularly approving exemptions which allow private developers to exceed those maximums… however, when it comes to parkland, City Council can only muster the will to approve the minimum required amounts to be built. This lack of foresight is now placing us in a difficult position to have to pay for additional parkland, not from development fees, but from tax-payer dollars, or worse, to reduce the parkland targets in our Official Plan.

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?

I have two main concerns when it comes to our growth targets. First, I am concerned about our ground water capacity and second, I am concerned about the financial impact of those developments on existing Guelph tax payers.

We currently have about 145,000 people in Guelph and the Province requires us to grow by about 63,000 residents by 2051. 50% of that growth needs to happen in greenfield areas like Clair-Maltby, the Innovation District and the former Dolime Quarry lands, and 50% of that growth must happen as in-fill development in our already built-up area.

This year our Water Services team let us know that when Guelph reaches the required population of 208,000 people, we could be short by as much as 20,000 cubic metres of water per day whenever we experience drought conditions.

To prevent this concerning water supply shortfall, we need to (a) advocate to the Province to reduce our growth targets to what our underground water supply can reasonably sustain, and (b) we need to maximise the amount of permeable ground across Guelph, to support our aquifer’s ability to recharge.

We can do this by encouraging the use of more permeable materials in construction and re-developments, by requiring that new greenfield developments be primarily higher density, by being firm on the amount of outdoor common amenity space that is required for new developments, and by increasing the amount of parks and protected open spaces across Guelph.

My second concern with our growth targets is that growth does not pay for itself. Whenever new developments are built, Development Charges, Parkland Dedication and Community Benefit Charges only cover a portion of the cost to deliver municipal services for those new communities.

This means that current Guelph residents continue to subsidise the cost of our growth. We need to better understand how much it will cost Guelph tax payers to meet the provincial growth targets and make better, more informed decisions moving forward.

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?

I am very concerned about poverty, homelessness, mental health and addictions in Guelph. As a Ward 2 Councillor, and a board member of both our Public Health Unit and the Downtown Guelph Business Association (DGBA), I am aware of the growing number of community members who are experiencing homelessness and struggling with mental health and addictions. Those community members are constantly in danger of being assaulted while they camp out on our river banks, parks and cemetery. The concentration of services in our downtown core is also having a detrimental effect on our businesses and the feeling of safety in our neighbourhoods and our downtown.

While these issues are present throughout the province and the rest of Guelph, they are concentrated in Ward 2, between our downtown core and the hospital, as well as the neighbourhoods along the Speed and Eramosa rivers.

At present Bylaw and Police officers move people along from encampments; However, we don’t have anywhere for those community members to go, so we are effectively treating people like geese, chasing them from one side of the City to another.

City Council needs to work more closely with Wellington County to build new government subsidised housing in Guelph. We also need to support our local faith and non-profit organizations to build truly affordable housing as well as more permanent supportive housing.

We have 32 permanent supportive housing units being built at Grace Gardens on Marilyn Drive, at the former Parkview Motel, which should open later this fall. There are another 32 units under construction at 10 Shelldale Crescent, another 28 temporary supportive housing units planned for 65 Delhi Street, and another 8 permanent supportive housing units planned for the youth shelter on Bellevue Street.

In all, Guelph could have as many as 100 permanent and temporary supportive units in the next couple of years, so when our Bylaw or Police officers have to ask someone to move out of an encampment, they will be able to offer them the option to access a room in a supportive facility that would also provide addictions and mental health supports.

City Council will need to support one or two more permanent supportive housing developments to be built in Guelph, in order to meet the current demand for those services. When we do, we will also need to make sure there is an equitable distribution of those services across Guelph.

As an individual Councillor I have and will continue to be an advocate for community organizations like the Guelph Wellington Poverty Elimination Task Force, the Guelph Community Centre, the Home for Good Campaign and the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, and well as many more organizations, who all do important work in homelessness prevention, food security and also support community members who are at risk of, or experiencing homelessness.

Most recently (in July 2022), I delegated at a special meeting of the Wellington County Social Services Committee. I advocated for greater support to help community members experiencing homelessness, who have nowhere to go between the time that overnight shelters close at 8am and the Royal City Mission opens at noon.

As a Ward 2 Councillor and DGBA board member, I have also been invited to join the Strategic Advisory Group on Downtown Issues, which is a sub-committee of the Mayor’s Taskforce on Homelessness and Community Safety.

In closing, Guelph City Council can work more closely with Wellington County and increase the amount of money we put each year into our Affordable Housing Reserve. These funds are needed to build additional permanent supportive housing units, and to support truly affordable rental housing to be built in Guelph.

Guelph City Council can also make it easier for community members and developers to create more ‘gentle’ density, by removing restrictions such as parking requirements, which prevent people from renting out rooms or apartments in their homes. We also need to allow multi-family homes (triplex and fourplex) to be built in all residential areas.

Lastly, City Council can also update our zoning bylaw to allow non-profit affordable housing to be built as-of-right across all zoning types, which would for example allow local churches to build affordable housing on their properties, without needing to change their zoning.

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

A more collaborative relationship between the City of Guelph and the County of Wellington is needed for us to work together to end homelessness in our region.

In 2022, the City of Guelph paid $23.5 Million to Wellington County, for the delivery of social services, including social housing. Wellington County itself invested about $9 Million on their own social services, so the City of Guelph provides roughly 2/3 of the region’s social services operating budget.

These resources are carefully administered by the County’s Social Services Committee, and while they are not required to have any member of Guelph City Council on that Committee, the County has allowed Mayor Guthrie to represent the City of Guelph as a full voting member of their Social Services Committee.

Guelph City Council needs to become more involved in the work being done at the County’s Social Services Committee, by paying attention to their agendas and attending those meetings. We also need to improve the flow of communication by delegating at their committee meetings to share the information and requests we receive from Guelph residents.

In July this year, the County’s Social Services team agreed to provide quarterly updates to Guelph City Council starting this fall, to keep us better informed about the ongoing work being done to deliver social services and end homelessness in our region.

Guelph City Council also needs to take a page from the County’s current practices when it comes to putting money into our Affordable Housing Reserve. In 2018 the City of Guelph did not put any money towards our Affordable Housing Reserve. Since then, and including the 2022 budget, we have been putting $500k per year into our Affordable Housing reserve, which is meant to fund social housing projects and support developers to build affordable and supportive housing.

In comparison, Wellington County put away $1.4M in 2021 and $1.7M in 2022 towards their Affordable Housing Reserve. This allows the County to build more social housing than the City of Guelph and it enables them to take advantage of funding opportunities from higher levels of government when they come up, as federal grants usually require matching contributions from municipalities.

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

Service Guelph and the Clerk’s office need to work more closely with our Accessibility Advisory Committee to identify and remove barriers which prevent Guelph residents from accessing City Hall and municipal services in general.

The City of Guelph has recently launched a four year Strategic Communications and Community Engagement Plan called “One City. One Voice. Shared Purpose.” This plan responds to the need for governments to be more accessible, agile and resilient. Guelph City Council needs to make sure that this plan is appropriately resourced and supported.

In an era with growing amounts of misinformation, disinformation, and information overload, Councillors need to invest time in creating relationships with our constituents. We can do this by providing direct, clear and regular communication on what City Council is working on, and by listening and bringing the concerns we hear from constituents to Council Chambers.

During my first term I hosted a number of in-person town halls, regular monthly email updates and occasional virtual town-halls that focused on timely issues. I found that I received the best feedback from my constituents when I asked for feedback on specific and time-sensitive decisions that were coming up at Guelph City Council.

Given the amount of information overload we are all experiencing through social media, we can not expect residents to read through the hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of pages of agendas and staff reports for each Council meeting. A significant part of my job as a Ward Councillor has been to read, understand and distill those reports, and present the relevant information and decision points to my constituents, so I can get their feedback, and we can make collaborative decisions on what is best for our community.

I don’t think it’s good enough for Councillors to just read the staff and cosultant’s reports and make decisions on behalf of our constituents without soliciting their input. I believe that it is equally important for Councillors to speak with Guelph residents and business owners, and consider your thoughts and feedback on all important decisions that will impact our community. By working together as a community we can achieve better decisions and better outcomes for Guelph.

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?

Things have certainly begun to shift in the last few years. From the #MeToo movement to Friday’s for Future, Black Lives Matter and Every Child Matters, our society has begun a collective awakening to realize that the systems we have been using need to change.

At the City of Guelph staff have created an Employee Diversity and Inclusion Plan, to make the municipality more welcoming for everyone; Black, Indigenous, people of colour, people who identify as members of LGBTQ2+ community, and other underrepresented groups. I think this work is very important, and I will continue to support the staff recommendations that come out of this plan.

I also advocated for Guelph City Council to support the Equity work being done by the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, and Guelph City Council did increase the funding going to our neighbourhood groups, both for food security and to support ongoing learning in equity and diversity across Guelph’s community organizations.

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?

In 2019 the City of Guelph commissioned Our Energy Guelph (OEG) to work with our community and businesses in Guelph to implement the 25 actions in the Low Carbon Pathway. These actions were designed by OEG to help our community meet the City’s Net Zero and 100% Renewable Energy goals.

Over the last couple of years, Our Energy Guelph worked with the City of Guelph to secure funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program. Through this program, property owners will be able to obtain a zero interest loan from the City, to cover the up-front costs of energy-saving retrofits, like solar panels or energy efficient windows, and repay the loan through the City’s collection of property taxes.

Unfortunately the terms of the agreement with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities required that the City administer the program, and earlier this summer the board of Our Energy Guelph voted to dissolve. At this point City staff are reviewing options for how the City can best support the implementation of the outstanding actions in the Low Carbon Pathway. I am committed to supporting that work, whether it has to be carried out by a different community based organization, or if that work needs to be led by City staff, in partnership with community organizations and Gueph’s business sector. This will be one of the most important decisions for the next term of Guelph City Council.

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

This is extremely challenging as inter-city transportation is a provincial responsibility and we, as a municipal Council, don’t have the mandate or the funding to carry out that work.

It’s also important to note that the Metrolinx 2041 Regional Transportation Plan for Toronto and Hamilton includes plans to create a Regional Express Bus Network that will connect Guelph to Kitchener, Cambridge, Brantford and Hamilton by 2041.

At the beginning of this term I spoke with the Mayor and other Council members to express my support and gauge their interest to direct Guelph Transit to begin conversations with our surrounding municipalities, principally Fergus, Kitchener and Hamilton, and to explore ways for our Cities to work together to address this intercity transit gap. Unfortunately I did not have support from a majority of Council members to direct staff to do this exploratory work during this term of Council.

With the new term of Council, if re-elected, I will again see if I can direct Guelph transit to begin having exploratory conversations with Metrolinx and our surrounding communities, to determine if we can fast-track Metrolinx’s plans for a Regional Express Bus Network, or if there are other opportunities to connect our municipalities sooner than 2041.

We do have to be aware that property tax dollars – which are the primary funding source for municipalities – are not intended to pay for intercity transit. If Gueplh and Hamilton for example were to work together and create a public transit solution between our municipalities, we would effectively be downloading that responsibility from the Province of Ontario, to our property tax payers. For that reason we would need to proceed with caution and advocate for Metrolinx to fast-track their planned network connections.

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?

Can I choose two things?

First, I think that Guelph City Council has to prioritize working with Wellington County to end homelessness in our region. We need to continue supporting community organizations to build permanent supportive housing. We need to work with non-profit organizations to create truly affordable housing in Guelph. We need to make sure our updated Zoning Bylaw makes it easier for home owners to create rental apartments in their homes, and we need to make it easier for residents to create additional dwelling units, tiny homes and multi-residential homes across Guelph.

Secondly, I think that the City of Guelph has much room for improvement when it comes to how we communicate with our constituents. I am excited to see the roll out of the newly announced communications and engagement plan, One City. One Voice. Shared Purpose. We have the technology for Guelph residents to have a single point of contact with the municipality. One phone number and an online portal, where they can access all municipal services, from getting their property tax statement to checking their water use and making a bylaw complaint or registering for recreation activities. Unfortunately as we shift from paper and in-person based transactions to increasingly more online and virtual transactions, we need to work harder to present a single, coherent point of contact for residents and we need to make sure we are bringing everyone along.

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?

Since it is budget time, we would have seen these issues weeks in advance of a meeting to make a decision. I would have distilled the key points of the heritage building redevelopment project, the opportunity to modernize a key city service and possibility to reduce a budget by a full percentage point. I would have sent that information to my constituents, and asked for their feedback. At that point I would have a sense if there was a clear best option for our community.

If these issues were particularly contentious, I would host an in person or virtual town hall, to have a conversation with residents on how they would prioritize these competing priorities, and what the loss/benefits would be for Guelph. I think this is the best approach, to listen and understand the competing priorities that we have to work with, and to work with constituents to arrive at the best decision for our community.

I am very concerned that some Councillors may hold particular items as more important because of their personal agendas, rather than what is best for our community. The heritage building may very well be worth investing in fully, or it may well be that the best option would be to focus our funds on improving that key municipal service. I would also be concerned with Councillors who want to make a decision to reduce the budget increase at the cost of a key municipal service that is in high demand. So to answer this question, depending on the staff reports, advice from the heritage and accessibility advisory committees and most importantly, the feedback and conversations I have with my constituents, I could choose to support either of those projects, or the opportunity to reduce the future budget increase by a full percentage point.

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

I would be very disappointed if we got to the end of this election without debating the downloading of responsibility from the province to municipalities, and what our tolerance is to deal with the impacts on our community. The province is responsible for our health care system, including hospitals, mental health and addictions. They are also responsible for employment and poverty prevention and elimination. However, the failures in these systems impact our ability to deliver paramedic services, they burden our police services and leave municipalities to struggle with increasing numbers of community members experiencing homelessness, mental health issues and addictions.

How should Guelph respond to these shifting concerns? Do we focus strictly on core municipal services? Do we put temporary band-aid solutions in place to alleviate the impact of this provincial downloading on our neighbourhoods and our business community? Or do we spend property tax dollars meant to build municipal infrastructure and deliver municipal services, to deliver the services the province is failing to deliver?

To be clear, I am not in favour of municipalities spending property tax dollars to deliver services that fall under Provincial jurisdiction, but I hear from my constituents on a regular basis that we need to do something about addictions, homelessness and poverty. That we need a better health care system. That we need viable intercity transportation options. Even if we only want to focus on core municipal services, we end up paying more in Police and Bylaw services to address issues of mental health, addictions and poverty. We end up paying more in paramedic overtime wages to make up staffing shortages in emergency rooms and a shortage of long-term care beds. We know that if we diverted some of the funds we spend municipally to deal with the downstream impacts when the Provincial services fall short, we could benign to resolve these issues and prevent them before they happen. I think there is no easy answer, but it’s a conversation we need to have in this election.

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

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