CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE – Chetna Robinson, Ward 6 Councillor

“I adore Guelph! It is such a charming city and I want to make sure that we don’t grow into a cookie cutter suburb. Ward 6 has seen explosive growth which means the next few years will be critical in making sure we have the infrastructure to keep our quality of life.”

Why are you running for city council?

I adore Guelph! It is such a charming city and I want to make sure that we don’t grow into a cookie cutter suburb. Ward 6 has seen explosive growth which means the next few years will be critical in making sure we have the infrastructure to keep our quality of life. I see a divide happening, with downtown being prioritized and then the “outskirts” being left without a rec centre for our kids. Informed decisions are essential for growth and I want to be at the table to fight for Ward 6.

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

I have been following council closely but yelling at the screen is not the same as formal experience – this will be my first foray into formal politics. Being a woman, a person of colour, and a renter has always made me think that politics was not achievable to me but those are all things that need to be represented on city council. I have career experience in project management, change management, and equity inclusion. I am very accustomed to diving into big projects and having to take the time to read the background so I will be a well-informed council member and am confident that I will be able to connect with my constituents. It all comes down to being approachable and having a solid binder system.

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

I was proud that we decided to endorse Net Zero by 2050. All of our decisions are interconnected and we need to decide that the future is responsible. Using Net Zero to guide infrastructure and economic decisions will ensure that we don’t waste money having to fix things 10 years from now.

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 plan is to make sure we make intelligent decisions and learn from cities like Mississauga that sprawl is not a sustainable growth model. Mixed-use neighbourhoods financially outperform car-centric neighbourhoods every time so focussing on higher density developments and infill is vital. We can limit sprawl and focus on intensification – single family dwellings, apartments and townhouses with smaller lots and greenspace. We need infrastructure that is planned for, not developments that are greenlit with the mindset that we can deal with all the details later. It doesn’t work that way, we need to build things right the first time.

For jobs, if we diversify the economy by supporting and incentivizing innovative businesses we will not just have jobs but job satisfaction. Guelph has so many quirky shops and that entrepreneurial spirit needs a fertile environment. We can advocate for our city to benefit from federal programs. We should partner with investors and we need to modernize the process by making city hall easier to access. Nobody should walk away from a business because they aren’t sure whether to file form 827a or 827b. We need to streamline internal operations to allow timely access to resources and provide active support like workforce training for long-term small business survival.

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?

We can remove barriers to housing and create jobs. There is a major difference between someone suffering from mental health and addiction issues while housed and fed and someone who sinks to poverty. The desperation and instability is a major issue and while Wellington county is managing the resources for shelters and counselling, we need to be looking at the root causes that reinforce these issues – projects addressing domestic violence, as one small example.

It is way too hard to find a home – I’ve applied to apartments that wanted 6 months of rent in advance! We need to increase the housing supply with inclusionary zoning – in practise as well as on paper by working on rapid rehousing programs and rental or mortgage assistance support. I think the task force is doing a lot of good, it is thrilling to hear that construction is underway or imminent for three supportive housing projects that will collectively add 72 units in Guelph and that we now have an addiction court support worker in bail court at Guelph’s Ontario Court of Justice. More of this! We can not let Welcoming Streets fall to the wayside.

We also need to loudly advocate that the province step up as this issue is beyond our city and no amount of our tax dollars will fix it. The province needs to raise social service incomes and properly fund healthcare.

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

Not just support, insist upon! We need to ensure that issues don’t get lost in the system of which jurisdiction should be handling it. We can do that by encouraging collaborative economic development and increased communication between the councils.

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

You get a townhall! And you get a townhall! And YOU get a townhall! We need councillors to be actively and energetically engaging with constituents in various ways. I would go to pta meetings, I would talk to local businesses, I would make sure neighbourhood residents felt like they could approach me. I run a Guelphites discord so I already have a direct line of communication with a lot of local citizens and understand the benefit of using direct community engagement tools.

I would also empower constituents to be able to access information by making City Hall efficient. We can automate processes, engage through local radio like CFRU, and update our online portals.

Also, we have an Accessibility Advisory Committee so we should work with it. I go into this more into the next question – the only way to make things accessible is by talking to the groups affected. Council can work closely with the committee to remove barriers preventing access.

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?

There are no people of colour on the city council. While I know for a fact that many council members are advocates and allies who have worked to engage various cultural groups and enact policy advisors, the fact remains that some issues facing marginalized communities can not be understood by people who do not face systemic barriers or understand the experience of intersectional identity markers. All of the good will and heartfelt intentions must work alongside the experience of people within the affected groups.

I know it sounds glib to say I would promote greater representation by simply being elected but it’s true – I know what it’s like to not be heard because of your identity and I will make sure to advocate for all marginalized groups to be heard. I chaired the DEI committee at my workplace so I understand that if I want to address issues with, say, the LGBTQIA community, I need to talk to that community. No amount of goodwill on my part is going to allow me to understand their issues. We need to practise inclusivity, not just advocate for it. We need to engage with equity groups and elevate their voices by giving direct access to council.

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?

We need green development! Renewable energy sources and water recapture treatments are existing technologies, we need to incentivize developers to build things responsibly. We are done with fossil fuels, everyone can see that so let’s adopt urban design that reflects that. We can support projects that are in line with our goals for renewable energy and groundwater recharge, and we can do it in a fiscally responsible way. We are not reinventing the wheel, we just need to make sure things are built right the first time by opting for responsible builders.

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

This is a toughie because it’s part of this ongoing debate of how much provincial responsibility should be offloaded to our constituents versus how long we can afford to wait for the province. An analogy is that I rent my home but still put the money into laying down a patio – yes, I shouldn’t have to pay for it but frankly my life will be better with it. That only goes so far though, I’m not paying for a deck!

So this is a matter of us advocating for our needs to the province while also planning for the interim. I think a great first step is to ask Guelph Transit to start the conversation with surrounding communities to connect all of our transit systems. Fergus, Elora, Kitchener, Hamilton can work with Guelph Transit to create a network that works together.

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?

ONE ISSUE? Ooof. All issues are connected, how can I pick one? Climate policy, housing policy, rising costs of food and utilities, renewable energy – it’s all the same problem and decisions on one issue need to be interconnected with all the others. I recognize, though, that that is a very ‘politician’ answer so fine, twist my arm – if I was a federal cabinet minister, I would want to be in charge of Education.

I think the first step in change is making sure that people are informed about issues, what solutions are possible and which are not. There are a lot of angry people yelling at politicians and the one common factor is that they are misinformed about what is within reach and how to effect change. We need to make sure local politics is accessible and understandable so that people feel empowered to discuss issues that matter to them instead of being grifted into rage. Education can be increased by working with our school boards to ensure equitable access, making sure libraries exist, and ensuring access to greenspace (we learn better when we’re healthy).

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?

This is a trick question! I’m not an authority on any of these matters and it is not my job as a councillor to presume I should be deciding these things. I don’t know what my motion is because in this hypothetical, I would ask my constituents and the experts. I have to discuss with citizens what they want and identify how each of these options affects them and then bring that forth. If I made my mind up on what the motion would be without this input then I would be a pretty shoddy councillor.

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

The lack of representation on council. And I don’t even just mean having POCs, I mean renters or people who have needed social services such as Compass community services. We do a great job of advocating for business and landowners but there are a lot of other types of people in Guelph. We need to advocate for businesses and homeowners but we also need to make decisions that are inclusive of students, renters, workers and children.

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

Twitter: @robinsonforyou

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