CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE – Dominique O’Rourke, Ward 6 Councillor

“I’ve lived in the fastest growing part of the city for 22 years so I experience the impact of intensification and feel the gap between infrastructure and growth. As the mom of two teens, I know what it’s like for our family to juggle budgets for post-secondary, the mortgage and essentials. I share my teen’s concerns around the environment and their ability to someday own a home.”

Why are you running for city council?

There are three main reasons I’m running again.

First, for the city. We’re going into a difficult period with massive projects and high inflation. The next Council will have to set and stick to clear priorities and make important policy decisions. I provide knowledge of the files, experience at Council and a track record strategic thinking, open communication, accountability, and priority setting.

Second, Ward 6 residents still need a strong voice to represent their perspective and their experience of the challenges of rapid growth. I work hard to balance growth and green spaces, new development with existing communities. I also push very hard for long-promised infrastructure in the South end like road safety, transit and the South End Rec Centre.

Third, I’ve learned a lot in my first four years on Council so I can be even more effective in my second term.

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

I have a degree in Economics and an MA in Leadership. I’ve worked in communications and public relations in the non-profit, public and private sectors for more than 20 years. I’ve taught PR at Conestoga College and I’m the sole proprietor of a strategic communications firm.

It’s in this capacity that I worked with Guelph Police and Special Olympics Ontario to fundraise and mobilize the community for the 2016 Provincial Spring Games. I’ve written national reports on youth, art and belonging, sport and belonging for Community Foundations of Canada. I worked on national and provincial reports for the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. So, I am really tuned into data and public policy.

Since moving to Guelph in 1997, I volunteered extensively with my kids’ school and more than 10 years with the Guelph Community Foundation where I helped write Guelph’s 2018 Vital Signs report. I’ve been involved with the Guelph Y’s Women of Distinction since 2016 and founded Réseau-Franco Guelph.

As Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors for Groupe Média TFO, a provincial government agency, chair of TFO’s Finance and Audit committee, I have solid governance skills.

As a new Councillor, I came to know all the files very well. This will make me more effective in my second term. In addition to my regular Council responsibilities, I served as Vice-Chair and then Chair of IDE (Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise) and as the Mayor’s designate on the Board of Trustees of The Elliott and on their Finance and Audit committee.

On a personal level, I’ve lived in the fastest growing part of the city for 22 years so I experience the impact of intensification and feel the gap between infrastructure and growth. As the mom of two teens, I know what it’s like for our family to juggle budgets for post-secondary, the mortgage and essentials. I share my teen’s concerns around the environment and their ability to someday own a home.

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

Good governance rarely makes the front page but prior to 2018, the city did not have a strategic plan or established Key Performance Indicators to measure progress. Adoption of the strategic plan, realignment of budgets to serve the strategy, and improved measurement for decision-making and transparency, those are new and essential tools brought in by the previous council that will guide us for years to come and build in accountability. In parallel, the KPMG service review and adoption of its recommendations help us find ways to meet our strategic plan goals faster and more efficiently.

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?

Growth targets are set by the province and the strategies for meeting those targets are developed by planning staff every five years, informed by community consultation, and presented to Council. This ensures that we’re planning infrastructure, especially underground infrastructure like water and wastewater, to accommodate the forecasted growth. At the moment, residential growth is primarily concentrated in intensification corridors and nodes – especially along Gordon St. For me, that intensification has to reasonably conform with the plans, heights, densities and requirements that are already in place or at least be sensitive to the surrounding community, especially in terms of parking and traffic. I am a fierce advocate for the community on these issues.

We absolutely have to build new housing, and that development can take place throughout the City, such as Downtown or near the future Highway 7 to meet different needs. While Council embraces the concept of intensification along Gordon St, it also has to embrace it equally in other areas, including removing exclusionary zoning to allow more infill. And while Council has a role to examine and approve applications, and the city can look at simplifying processes, we also need developers to build approved units. There are 6,345 units that could be built right now.

Finally, while we’re often focused on residential growth, economic development and meeting our jobs target is also critical if we want a vibrant local economy. The best way to reduce transportation emissions is to have great local jobs that make it easy to shorten a commute, take transit of use active transportation. So in addition to developers, neighbourhoods and community groups, we need a strong input and collaboration from Guelph’s major institutions and its business community.

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?

First, mental health and addictions are about access to health care. These are a provincial responsibility. As such, I have taken part in delegations with provincial ministers to advocate for action and funding for mental health and addictions as well as infrastructure and operational funding for supportive housing.

The city, of course, is dealing with the consequences of untreated mental illness, addictions and homelessness. Beyond the $23M we transfer to the County for social services every year (they are the delivery agent for shelters and affordable housing for the city), we’re on the right track with approvals for permanent supportive housing. We’re also working with the county to come up with better solutions.

I support the Welcoming Streets program downtown to help connect people with supports and to help business owners. It’s one aspect of making Downtown Guelph feel safe for all residents, but we need to do more.

The police and CMHA also have a successful IMPACT program. During Guelph’s delegation with Minister Tibollo during the August Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference, I personally asked for additional funding to cover the hours of 12:00-8:00 a.m. which is currently a gap. Further, the city also has a role in ensuring we have mental health support for our first responders who always have a difficult job, even more so over the past two years. We need to help the people who help you.

Beyond housing, funding and first responders, the City’s biggest role is supporting mental wellness. That can mean programming that builds belonging and connection for people of all ages and backgrounds and breaks isolation. It can be providing natural spaces or physical spaces for people to meet. It can mean community benefit agreements or grants for organizations that support mental health.

You can find out more about my position on this at orourkeward6.ca.

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

Certainly. We share boundaries, roads, a watershed and certain services with surrounding townships and the County, so we need to make sure we have good relationships. I’ve raised this at Council before to entrench the principle in our Official Plan. The mayor serves on the Social Services Committee because the County is the provincially designated delivery agent for social services like affordable housing, Ontario Works and childcare.

Every year, the City of Guelph sends $23M to the County to deliver these programs in Guelph. I think Council and the community need a better understanding of the goals and results for those programs. I was very pleased to see the County’s quick response to Council’s motion on homelessness and addictions. Everyone wants to address these issues. In fact, we had joint delegations with the County on these issues at the conference for Ontario municipalities in August.

Councillors also serve with county and township councillors on boards like Public Health or the GRCA. Definitely, staff do the heavy lifting when it comes to planning and operations and we all do our best to identify opportunities and to arrive at the best possible outcomes.

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

With respect to accessibility, a key benefit of hybrid meetings is that people can delegate to city Council from their home by phone or video. That’s helpful not only for people with limited mobility but also for people who are putting kids to bed, who can’t stay for a long evening meeting. Sometimes people are intimidated delegating to Council or anxious in public spaces so remote meetings may feel more comfortable.

I know that closed captioning and possibly sign language interpretation is being introduced shortly and I have personally made an effort to read out motions that are not in the agendas so people who are visually impaired can follow what’s happening when motions are put on the screen. Both my parents had serious mobility issues so whether its accessibility of the physical building, accessibility of our proceedings or accessibility in the community, like parking and accessible housing units, I’ve been an advocate.

Accessibility also means that everyone feels welcome at City Hall and Council. I’m meeting with residents who are newcomers or permanent residents. It’s important for them to know that even if they can’t vote, they can absolutely contact their councillor or delegate to Council. The same applies to young people. I love hosting people in Council Chambers to talk about what we do there and help them be comfortable in the space.

To keep people informed about what’s happening at Council and in Ward6, I’ve sent more than 75 newsletters since 2018 so residents know about agenda items, development applications, upcoming consultations, key dates or events. More than 800 people subscribe and the feedback is excellent. I’m easy to reach through phone, email and social channels and while we did host several Ward 6 townhalls during this term, I’d like to do more and have them be less formal. Despite all this, nothing beats speaking with people directly in the community or at their front door. People are welcome to contact me anytime.

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?

I had been urging the Clerk’s office to track diversity on Council advisory committees since 2018. I am glad to see that was implemented on a voluntary basis in addition to greater outreach to various groups that are under-re-represented on these committees. I have frequently championed diversity on these committees and on any board where I serve.

To promote representation at Council, I spoke at the Women’s Campaign School and have personally encouraged and supported many council candidates who would bring a range of diversity – age, ethnicity, background – to Council if elected. I also make it a point to encourage all constituents, regardless of background to write or delegate to council, to participate in consultations or to reach out for help. Ward 6 is one of the most diverse wards in the city. I feel a great responsibility that everyone is treated equally and feels included and that I am representing them well.

To promote equity and inclusion in the city, I asked the police services board to review the MMIWG and TRC municipal recommendations to ensure we are addressing them.

I’ve taken training and have read a lot to help me understand and identify bias and barriers and how I can work towards eliminating them. In that respect, I am going to keep learning and serving.

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?

Council and The City of Guelph has committed to Race to Zero and to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. There are plans and budgets in place to tackle these targets. Some of the most important projects like reusing digester gas from the wastewater treatment process to help power the wastewater treatment plant will never be sexy or top of mind but will be the most impactful for the corporation.

Transportation: One priority that serves both the corporation of the city and the entire community is the 10-year, $254M plan to electrify and expand transit. Residents choosing to take transit – even for a few trips each month – will help improve the modal split. I support the transit plan and my family is using transit more than ever.

Similarly, investments in active transportation, including separated bike infrastructure, encourage residents to reduce their emissions by choosing to walk or bike for some of their trips. The city is providing the infrastructure, people have to choose the behaviour. Personally, I try to use my e-bike as much as possible and encourage people to substitute trips when they can. I am also a major proponent of working with school boards to ensure trails create safe and easy ways to walk to school.

The city, as well as business and institutions, is also increasing the availability of electric chargers for vehicles. As people make the switch, we should see a decrease in personal vehicle emissions.

Home energy retrofits: The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has awarded the City of Guelph with a $5M grant and up to $10M for free or very low interest loans for home energy retrofits. The city will administer the program through the property tax system. These grants will be stackable to take advantage of the federal program and will help homeowners reduce their energy costs. Again, the city can facilitate the change. I can raise awareness. The public needs to respond.

Finally, more than 50% of emissions come from institutional, commercial and industrial buildings. Here’s where we need leadership from our largest public and private employers. I’d like to understand their plans to reduce emissions to share them with the community and to understand how the city can accelerate or support that shift.

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

As part of a recent city delegation, I personally asked the Minister of Transportation to help fund inter-regional transit, beyond the GO bus and GO Train, and highlighted the impact of the closure of the Greyhound route. In the absence of additional funding, we could look at partnering with RideWell or the County or Townships. We’ve done some creative pilots with our On-demand service which are worth exploring for regional routes provided there is sufficient ridership.

I supported the 10-year transit strategy which incorporates three interregional transit routes from Guelph Central Station to Pinebush Station in Cambridge (2025), to Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener (2026), and to Aberfoyle (2027) although I would expect a cost-sharing arrangement with neighbouring municipalities or a different fee structure for non-residents of Guelph.

With respect to 2-way/all-day GO, to encourage people to take the train, Guelph Transit needs to align its bus schedule to accommodate the first and last trains.

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 represent all my constituents on all the issues and am always looking at how policies and projects intersect and impact operations or the community. We need integrated thinking, not silos. However, since you ask a hypothetical question, my hypothetical cabinet post combines Treasury Board and Infrastructure. The city has undertaken many critical projects and initiatives in the past four years and the economic context has changed. We need to prioritize capital and operational spending and keep overall affordability for all residents in mind.

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 don’t have enough information to answer the question properly. That’s why I like Key Performance indicators and business cases. If you go see the 2020, 2021 and 2022-23 budget boards, you’ll see I ask a lot of questions to understand the options and implications. I dig into the operations and capital budgets and always put forward several motions to try and reduce the overall increase. Every time.

I would ask questions like: If it’s a city asset what’s the redevelopment for? Is it funded by development charges or the tax base? Where is it in order of priority for a capital project? Are there contracts already engaged? Is there grant funding that expires if we don’t proceed? Is it a one-time cost that can be funded through a reserve?

How does the modernization of the key city service benefit residents? What efficiencies or cost savings are the result of its implementation? Is it possible to phase the project? Is this a one-time capital expenditure that can be funded through reserves? If this benefits residents and saves operational costs, cut or underfunding is a false economy.

Finally, what’s the overall increase? Are there other expenditures that can shift or be eliminated to create the 1% reduction? Can we use the Tax Operating Contingency Reserve? What is the projected increase in revenues from growth and has it already been applied?

At the 2022 budget, I presented a series of motions to implement two plans over 12 years instead of 10 and to proceed with a staff position but not an additional consultant. These were to help offset the 1.3% increase for the 10-year transit plan. The motions didn’t pass. So, I voted against the last budget because the 4.2% increase in 2022 and 5.17% in 2023 was just too high. I was fully prepared to come back the next day to prioritize. I’m definitely prepared to revisit the 5.1% increase.

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

How we meet the needs of a growing city in a way that keeps overall affordability in mind.

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

website: ORourkeWard6.ca
FB: ElectORourke or ORourkeWard6
Insta: ORourke_Ward6
Twitter: Elect_ORourke and ORourke_Ward6
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dtorourke/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s